“Excuse me?” says Arthur.
“Don’t mention it,” Eames answers, airily as can be. He’s lounging in a recliner, the only remotely comfortable chair in the office space they’ve been using for the past few weeks, and flipping through a dry-as-toast psychology periodical with what seems to be genuine interest. “All water under the bridge. Someday, years from now, we’ll both look back on this and laugh. Assuming neither of us ends up being shanked in our sleep before then, of course.”
Arthur tries very hard not to grit his teeth. “That wasn’t an ‘oh, dreadfully sorry, do forgive me’ kind of excuse me. That was a ‘what the hell did you just tell me?’ kind of excuse me.”
He can feel his fingers digging into the upholstery of the straight-backed chair he’s gripping. Quickly, he lets go before he can do any lasting damage and starts gathering data sheets together instead. “And I didn’t shank you,” he adds. “I thought you were a burglar and had an instantaneous reaction, and it was only the one time. Years ago.”
“A burglar passed out from an ersatz Somnacin overdose on your hotel room floor.” Eames lets his magazine drop to the conference table with a distinctly unimpressed thump. Arthur doubts anyone not Eames could imbue a falling object with actual emotion. “Tell me, does that happen a lot or do you just enjoy waking people by almost-shanking them? It was eight months ago, by the way, and yes, you heard me correctly the first time.”
“But you’re—” Arthur trails off, frowning, and makes an all-encompassing sort of gesture at Eames’s current ensemble.
“What I am,” Eames says, puffing up a bit, “is European.” He looks amused, which tends to be his default expression whenever Arthur makes a misstep of some kind, and at the moment Arthur is hard-pressed to think of a bigger misstep than this one. “And this shirt is vintage Helmut Lang and I’ve been told plaid makes me look very rugged.”
“It makes you look like you should be prowling for fresh meat,” Arthur says. “It makes you look like an upscale lumberjack who knows his way around more than one kind of wood. It makes you—”
“Arthur,” Eames interrupts, swiveling the recliner a little closer and drawing out the first syllable of his name pityingly. “Are you upset at being rejected?”
“You’ve probably fucked more men than I have,” Arthur blurts out. “I’ve seen you.”
Eames actually titters. “So there’s a little bit of a pervert in you, is there?”
Arthur doesn’t even acknowledge that. “You and Kebbay were practically mauling each other on the ballroom floor that one time.”
No matter how it sounds to his own ears, he refuses to admit that he might be sulking. Stating a fact while most likely grimacing a bit, yes, but that isn’t remotely close to the same thing.
“That was for work,” Eames points out, as if Arthur has somehow forgotten the circumstances that led to Eames playing the part of a double-jointed tango dancer in the first place, “it was part of the plan, and I was forging a young lady with a spectacular set of—”
“Do we really have to go into—”
“—lips,” Eames finishes with aplomb. “And stopping would have compromised my cover. I’m not one to do anything half-arsed.”
“You already have spectacular lips,” Arthur sighs, miserable, and now maybe he really is sulking just a little.
“Thank you,” Eames says modestly, “but I’m still not interested in men.”
Arthur shoves a spiral notebook into his satchel with somewhat more force than necessary. “Yeah, well, my gaydar disagrees.”
Eames is blinking at him. “Tell me I misheard that. So far as I know, you’re not a fifteen-year-old desperately trying to pick out which of his mates is least likely to give him a slap for trying to steal a kiss. But no one over fifteen should be using the word gaydar without a hint of irony. This is very confusing.”
“Oh, shut up,” Arthur grumbles. “Can I buy you dinner or can’t I? I’m not asking again.”
“I already told you—”
“Right, I missed the memo on this one, I know. The offer still stands.”
“Proof positive that it happens to the best of us,” Eames says with a magnanimous nod.
Arthur slings the shoulder strap across his body and gives him a hard look. “Is that a yes or no?”
For a good long while, Eames just surveys him contemplatively. Arthur stands perfectly still, not letting himself waver. “You’re really buying?”
“Of course I’m buying; the person doing the asking generally does that.” He tugs his jacket into place and straightens up, probably looking every inch the uptight prig Eames thinks he is. “Please, don’t feel obligated to perform sexual favors. I’d never be able to live with myself.”
“I suppose your people skills can’t possibly get any worse,” says Eames. Arthur can’t be bothered to muster up the energy to argue with him on that point. “So I’ll meet you at seven, then?”
Arthur buys him a hamburger.
“If you’re trying to woo me,” Eames says, taking a break from unwittingly doing obscene things to his fries, “you might need to try a little harder.”
“I have no interest in wooing you,” Arthur lies, and drains his drink half out of spite and half out of self-preservation.
Eames seems not to have heard him. “Then again, this isn’t the worst first date I’ve been on.”
That makes Arthur’s hackles raise just a touch, but he doesn’t reply. Whatever this is, it clearly isn’t a date. There are dartboards and sticky puddles of beer and too much noise to allow for much conversation, which Arthur makes no effort to initiate.
But, when it’s all mercifully over, he does pay.
From the moment Eames touches him, Arthur can’t seem to stop moaning.
No amount of kisses can keep him quiet, but Eames is very insistent about trying anyway.
Arthur loses track of time the way he never can when he’s working. On the job, time is money and chemistry and the hazy line between waking once more and sleeping forever. Time, Arthur has learned the hard way, is everything. But when Eames bears him down onto the bed and fingers him until he’s blinded by sweat and desperation, Arthur doesn’t give a damn about anything else. It’s exhilarating to just not care for once.
He lets Eames lick the cries from his mouth, lets Eames ride down onto him again and again while Arthur’s hands grasp sweaty supplications into his hips. He lets himself laugh in triumph when he finds enough coordination to shove Eames over onto his stomach and take him from behind, muffling his own cries by biting into the blur of an indistinct tattoo on Eames’s shoulder blade.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” Eames sighs afterward. But Arthur only shakes his head and folds his arms around him a little more insistently.
“God, you’re so stubborn,” Eames tells him, hushed-voiced and close enough for his breath to tickle Arthur’s eyelids. His hand feathers small touches up his jaw until Arthur’s mouth seals over the first two fingertips.
Arthur smooths both hands up the broadness of his back and sucks his fingers in deeper, tongues the taste of him over and over.
“So terrible, so stubborn,” Eames says again, and it sounds like sweetness even though his words are soft and sardonic.
And when Arthur wakes, it’s alone, with the cannula as slim and unforgiving as ever against his wrist.
He spools up his IV line and locks the briefcase away like a sin.
The pinprick on the inside of his wrist fades long before his consciousness does.
“There’s something I want to talk to you about,” Yokota tells them the next day. “I know you were looking forward to having some time off, but hear me out.”
Arthur can already tell he isn’t going to like this.
“Auerbach seems to have quite a bit of faith in us. We’ve been asked to stay on a little while longer. For an actual extraction this time.”
“That’s not going to work for me,” Arthur says, already prepared to whip out excuses involving everything from flight times to funerals.
Yokota straightens her glasses and doesn’t even look at him. “He’s offering twice what he paid for militarization.”
Eames has the gall to look happy. “That works perfectly for me. What exactly is he after with this, now?”
The three of them are supposed to be parting ways after completing a perfectly standard militarization, but as Yokota pitches the second job to them Arthur ends up hanging on her every word, interested in spite of himself. He’s starting to wonder if he should have waited to finish everything completely before falling all over himself trying to ask Eames to dinner. It’s just his luck that Eames has the troublesome ability to make him stop thinking rationally, and someday Arthur knows he’s going to learn just how perilous that is.
“Politics,” Yokota says, actually wrinkling her nose as she distributes dossiers on the mark—one Nechama Tekin, who hasn’t actually gone by the name in years. “We have some time to think this over, but Auerbach still wants to meet for lunch to handle the details and he mentioned he’d very much prefer to get an answer within the next day.”
“You understand what this means?” Eames says.
“Yep.” Yokota doesn’t look up. “Regular clientele. Auerbach was so pleased with his results he’s willing to pay double to keep us around. If he mentions this to just one person, that could mean we’re the go-to extraction personnel for the uppermost echelons of nosiness here.”
“Being anyone’s go-to anything just means you have farther to fall when something inevitably goes wrong,” Arthur says.
Eames shoots him a fondly exasperated look, which he ignores.
“Obviously we have to consider whether we really want to become too associated with one specific region,” Yokota says, “but there’s no reason to burn any bridges if we don’t have to.”
Yokota was a customs broker before she fell to the dark side. She just happened to be a customs broker a team of extractors tried to bribe several years ago. They didn’t count on her driving an even harder bargain.
“If he’s so keen to have us do a proper extraction while we’re still in the area, then why not?” Eames is still riding high on the success of the militarization, which Arthur can understand to a certain extent. Auerbach found Eames particularly fascinating, and rightfully so. Not everyone gets the services of a forger when they’re taught to guard their mind. Eames’s presence and skill set mean a price hike for the entire team, since even the most airtight militarization can fall apart if the subject hasn’t been trained to interact with forged projections.
But when Eames gets a contemplative look on his face and says, “Not to mention Berlin is overrun with tour groups this time of year,” that’s pushing too far.
Arthur has nothing against Germany, but he’d planned on spending some time in Cyprus doing heaps and bunches of nothing for a little while. And he definitely hadn’t planned on making an idiot of himself in front of Eames and then having to stick around to work an even more involved job with him. “We’re not here so you can stick your hands in Midwestern soccer moms’ back pockets.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Eames says once Yokota’s out of earshot. “I know you know I’m not referring to the tour group remark, by the way, so I’m not going to bother spelling it out for you.”
He sounds matter-of-fact, which Arthur privately appreciates, since he doesn’t think he could deal very graciously with Eames feeling sorry for him. “Is this really something we need to talk about now? Or ever?”
Eames is sitting before him with a smirk on his full lips and his legs spread wide, somehow still sounding like a shining beacon of sincerity. “I thought you knew, that’s all. You know so much about everything that it never occurred to me this might have slipped through the cracks.”
Giving him the silent treatment would just be childish, so Arthur shrugs and forces a half-smile. “Like you said, it happens to the best of us.”
“Although,” Eames adds, “if that’s how you normally treat people you’re interested in, perhaps you need to reconsider your approach. Everyone has to learn by trial and error sometime. Fuck knows I have.” There’s actual contriteness in his voice, but that makes it worse.
And this is something unheard of coming from Eames, who can read people so easily, who once confided in Arthur that the name he goes by is one he borrowed from his ancestry on his mother’s side of the family. Arthur knows that isn’t true, that if Eames ever offers such intimate information about himself it’s almost certainly so he can gauge who’s naïve enough to swallow it and who knows better than to believe any sort of personal facts a conman gives willingly.
Arthur snorts. “Thanks, really.”
Regardless of how often he tells the truth, Eames really does know a lot about the process of getting into people’s pants. Trying to argue with him on that front would just be petty.
Yokota comes back with a laptop in each hand like some sort of cybernetic pizza deliverywoman, which is as smooth a segue as any into actually discussing the proposal. She and Eames get into a conversation about bringing in an actual architect seeing as they’ll need to build from their mark’s life instead of relying on the old standbys typically used for militarizations. Arthur is content to contribute minimally and take notes until she says something that makes him sit up so fast he could swear he cracks a few vertebrae in the process.
“—and there’s this guy with an eidetic memory, outstanding portfolio, but he’s been in some tight situations and really needs the money. He’s got a pretty checkered history, but his work is solid.”
“Nash?” Arthur demands at the same time Eames asks, “Would that happen to be Nash?” in far calmer tones.
“You’ve heard of him,” Yokota says, arching a brow.
“No possible way,” Arthur says instantly.
“Eidetic memory my arse,” Eames mutters. “He was the cockup who turned on you in Japan, wasn’t he?”
It takes all of Arthur’s self-control not to accuse Eames of mentioning cocks and asses and turn-ons for the sole purpose of getting under his skin. Arthur certainly wouldn’t put it past him, but it could also just be a simple case of unfortunate timing and unfortunate British turns of phrase. Grudgingly, he gives him the benefit of the doubt and plunges on. “I can build. I have some training and I learned a lot from the Cobbs.”
The workload would be ponderous, but he needs all the distractions he can get with Eames around, and by building and doing point at least he’ll be sure to have his hands full.
“I can as well,” says Eames, to Arthur’s absolute horror. “We can have a go at it together and if it’s shit then we’ll spring for an actual trained architect.”
“I am an actual trained architect.”
“Weren’t you hauled out of the program for some reason or other?”
“I was, but not for being a lousy architect.”
“How interesting. You’ll have to tell me more about that.”
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” Arthur says sternly, belatedly realizing that he’s apparently regressed to preschool age. “At least I had some training.”
“Whoever taught you the ‘down, boy’ command needs to try harder,” Yokota interjects. “Can you two agree on something or should I just go make popcorn? This is fascinating, but we really need to move on.”
Three hours later, the two of them are having a standoff over an empty popcorn bowl, a wide open PASIV, and the latest version of VectorWorks.
When Yokota took her leave for the night, Arthur had kept pointedly poring over his dossier, and Eames had still persisted in plodding right along trying to be helpful. “I don’t care how hell-bent you are on overloading yourself,” he finally announced, “you’re not going to be able to build this all on your own.”
So Arthur had plugged them in and created a level, but once they woke up Eames had sighed and looked insultingly world-weary before putting more time on the clock and creating a level of his own, and now it’s all apparently turned into some kind of architectural pissing contest when neither of them are even technically architects to begin with. Cobb would be pounding his head against the wall if he could see this. Ariadne, on the other hand, would probably be laughing herself sick.
“If you ever had to create anything that wasn’t death-defyingly reliant on right angles and Seikaiha wallpaper, I’d die of shock if you pulled it off,” says Eames.
His sleeves are rolled up, baring thick sun-gold forearms, and he has the most irritatingly pleased look on his face. Cheerful, almost, like he’s not looking for an argument, just stating a fact, and isn’t Arthur adorably neurotic for getting so worked up over it.
To be fair, he’s had that exact effect on Arthur in the past, but Arthur likes to believe he’s learned a thing or two about not taking the bait since then.
“If you really want to throw stones, let’s talk about how you can’t even hook yourself up to a goddamn PASIV without taking ten minutes to figure out how,” he mutters, not about to waste his breath getting into a debate on traditional Japanese patterns.
“I have difficult veins,” Eames says ruefully, as Arthur is busy disposing of the needles.
This is something Arthur has gone back and forth between pretending not to notice and using as an excuse to touch Eames while lending a hand. “Maybe you shouldn’t have been too rough on yourself when you were starting out. Those side effects don’t just go away.”
“Not everyone was inducted into the world of dreamshare via the posh government-approved military-grade route. All those overeager spods who were clamoring to be guinea pigs before they knew what they were really in for? They had to come from somewhere.”
“If you think the FBI actually got dreamsharing off the ground without a hitch, you really haven’t done your research.”
“If you think I give a shit about your pedigree, I’m going to need several beers.”
“Fine,” Arthur says shortly, and turns on his heel. There’s a Getränkemarkt down the street and he doesn’t need to be in the same room as Eames any longer than necessary.
Nothing warms his heart quite like being able to surprise Eames. His lips make a perfect rosebud O when Arthur comes back ten minutes later with bock in both hands.
He tries not to smirk, but admittedly he doesn’t try very hard. Eames is rolling his eyes but looking more pleased than pissed off and that’s what really matters. Arthur has ruminated long and hard about the circumstances under which he’s made Eames smile, both intentionally and unintentionally.
“Brilliant. Did they card you?”
That happened one time, at a bar in Wyoming, and Eames has never let him live it down.
“Do you want one or not?”
Eames laughs and Arthur hates every last one of his charmingly uneven teeth. “I highly doubt you can polish all those off on your own.”
“I aspire to great things when you’re around,” Arthur says, cracking one open. “You didn’t know that?”
“So I take it we’re officially doing this,” Eames says, wry. “After all that, it’d be a little self-defeating to turn Auerbach down now.”
“I was going to go to Cyprus,” Arthur laments, dropping his head into his hands. One of the empty bottles dolefully rolls across the Tekin dossier and settles against Eames’s elbow.
“I’ve never been. What’s there to do?”
“Relax. That was my only plan.” Relax and go to beaches and live on sweet, cold drinks and pretend to be someone else for a little while.
“I think that’s the best plan of all,” says Eames. “You don’t get to do it half as often as you should. Have you ever noticed what a disproportionately high percentage of arseholes you work with?”
Arthur frowns and makes sure he’s enunciating very clearly. “Every single day.”
Which, in turn, just has Eames smiling at him like he honestly has no idea just how devastating that is.
This time, Arthur can at least partially blame it on the alcohol when he lets himself be distracted once again by how handsome he is. There are certain aspects of Eames’s appearance that are more typically feminine, but still somehow all coalesce into something striking and dangerous in him. Hair lightened from spending so much time in tropical climes—he was in Port Louis before coming to Berlin, Arthur knows this even though Eames never told him—shoulders still mouthwateringly broad, lips full and pink as ever, arms solid under his neatly ironed shirt. Even slouching casually with a half-empty bottle in one loosely curled hand, he doesn’t seem vulnerable or unarmed. Eames at rest is like a sleeping tiger, fully capable of leaping up and tearing through a dozen throats without breaking a sweat. Proud and bloody, devouring hearts.
Arthur knows he’s guilty of romanticizing every last inch of the body is Eames is cruel enough to swath in too-loose clothes, but he would still kill to catch even a glimpse of Eames in a gym. Preferably shirtless. There were jobs when the two of them happened to be staying at the same hotel and Arthur would spend an idiotic amount of time sulkily treadmilling and waiting to see if he’d show up. But that was a long time ago and Arthur fervently tries to believe he’s matured since then.
The closest he’s ever come is seeing Eames in a tight white undershirt once in Athens. His luggage had mysteriously never made it onto the plane and he’d shown up for work wearing a frown and a shirt stretched thin enough for the shapes of his tattoos to show through in places. Arthur had almost sent a thank you note to the airline. Part of him wished he’d paid off an attendant to keep Eames’s luggage back in the first place; it was such a brilliant, simple idea. There are times, such as when Eames is being especially infuriating or has the temerity to walk around with just a single shirt button undone, when he still has half a mind to try it out sometime.
“Where were you going to go?” he asks, before he can get called out for staring.
Eames shrugs and studies a bottle cap. “Hadn’t settled on anything in particular. Denmark, maybe. Good company to be had, but I can’t stand the food.”
“You did the Pedersen job there,” Arthur says, remembering, just drunk enough and curious enough to pry. “I always wondered how you got in with that family.”
“Mmm, Pedersen.” Eames leans back in his chair and smiles fondly at the ceiling. “He was a bastard and wife was never around, but his daughter was something else. Sometimes opportunities just present themselves.”
Arthur drinks long and deep, sets the empty bottle on the table between two others. “Go on.”
Eames leans back further, eyes sliding half-closed, and he actually groans a little when he stretches his arms over his head. God, Arthur hates him. “It was fucking fantastic, like you’d never believe. She was a sugary little tart, just twenty-three. Tied me to the bed in her room in her father’s house during some soiree he was hosting, came back up to me when she got bored, shimmied out of her dress, slipped her knickers off, and let me fuck her until she felt like going back downstairs to be the good daughter again.”
Arthur’s jaw suddenly loses the ability to move.
“I was begging to lick her cunt before the night was out. Didn’t even care if she let me come, I just wanted to taste her so badly.” He’s beaming, bright-eyed and cherry-cheeked. Arthur wants to slap him and then fuck him through the floor. “And that’s it. That’s the story of how I got in with the Danish banking elite.”
He’s never heard Eames say anything so vulgar before, or at least nothing that wasn’t part of a forgery, and he likes it. For someone who makes a career of indiscretions, Eames has never been one to kiss and tell. He doesn’t even care if Eames is only opening up now in order to bait him. But if he is, Arthur’s not shy about rising to the occasion.
“I did that with a guy I was seeing once,” he says, hoping he seems more nonchalant than combative. “Tied his wrists to his ankles so he couldn’t pull my hair, threatened to strap him down and just leave him there with the door open when we had guests over, where anyone could walk in on him. This had nothing to do with work, though.”
“That sounds disturbingly intriguing. And unsurprisingly heartless.”
“I’m not heartless,” Arthur says, after a beat.
“I know,” Eames says, without missing one.
For what seems like a tediously long time, Arthur just stares at the same page and tries to reread Tekin’s history with the German secret service.
“Did you stay with her?” he finally ventures. “The Pedersens’ daughter?”
“No. I broke things off after I broke into her father’s offshore accounts. She was devastated, but she never found out I did it.”
Arthur glances at him and wonders if maybe he dodged a bullet when Eames let him down easy the previous evening. It’s not a very comforting thought, since Arthur already knows he can handle the occasional graze if the end result is worth it, not to mention he’s taken a bullet for Eames more than once. The last time was in the subconscious of a Lebanese executive who really, really liked first-person shooter games. “You’re really not the kind of guy someone brings home to mom.”
“Neither are you,” Eames says, not unkindly. “Doesn’t matter how many waistcoats you wear, Arthur, you’re no better than any other common thief.”
His brain is making dangerous connections now. Eames is talking about sex, therefore Eames is interested or at least curious. Eames is talking about sex, therefore Eames is being a complete dick and can’t resist pushing the envelope to see how Arthur reacts. Eames is talking about sex, therefore Eames just might do something other than snicker or punch him if Arthur drags him up by his wilted lapels and finds out firsthand whether his lips are as soft as they look.
Arthur is suddenly, alarmingly aware that he needs to leave for the night before he’s stupid enough to let any of his thoughts reach his voice.
He mutters an excuse about how late it’s getting and having a heavy workload in the morning. He somehow makes it out the door to the elevator without looking back or catching Eames’s response. And he goes back to the cookie-cutter comfort of his rental apartment and tries to sleep—alone, annoyed, not picturing Eames strapped down and cuffed to the headboard and at his mercy, not jealous of some Danish billionaire’s daughter who Eames fucked in more than one way. Not thinking of anything at all.
“This woman,” Yokota says, “has a seriously tangled history. Arthur? Anything else about Graz?”
In lieu of actually reeling off what he’s found out, Arthur thumbs at the spine of his moleskine and says, “The German secret service is paying out their collective ass to spy on a Jewish woman. Classy.”
Eames flicks him a glance. “She’s one of their agents, not Anne Frank. They’re looking in on one of their own.”
Yokota’s face twists into a frown as she stabs another pen through the bun at the nape of her neck. At the rate they’re going, her head is going to look like a weapon from the Crusades before they’ve even figured out how to get into Tekin’s mind. “No, I agree. I think it’s beyond ridiculous that she’s being treated like she needs a babysitter. Hold this.” She shoves a notepad into his hands and crosses to drag the freestanding easel around. A simple whiteboard wasn’t providing enough writing space, so now it and the room are covered with pieces of adhesive chart paper, which in turn are covered with Yokota’s preternaturally neat penmanship.
As Arthur watches, she sketches out a quick and dirty timeline. “Born in Germany, Jewish mother, Turkish father, grew up in Austria but spent plenty of time in Turkey for holidays and the like. Top of every class she was ever in, joined the BND as a foreign liaison, did good solid work for years in Kosovo. And now that she’s back on native soil they’re acting like she’s incompetent.”
Since her return, Tekin’s been placed in a Salafist neighborhood, mingling with suspected extremists to monitor any occurrences of suspicious behavior, but the BND wants to make sure she’s not being drawn onto their side since she’s so good at the role. It all smells a bit funny to Arthur, but no funnier than any of the last dozen jobs he’s worked.
“Nothing suspect about that at all, is there?” Eames says in a dry voice. “Smacks a bit of religious bias, assuming that because she’s got Turkish blood she’ll be seduced by Muslim jingoism. That’s a heap of shit, but the payoff’s nothing to sneeze at.”
“Exactly.” Yokota doesn’t seem to acknowledge his last statement, valid as it is. “They just can’t resist treating her like a loose cannon even though her entire work history bears no evidence for any such grounds. It’s either because she’s a woman or because she’s got mixed heritage, like she hasn’t had that kind of judgment stacked against her all her life. Not that I’d know anything about that.”
“So we’re extracting from her in order to defend her honor?” Arthur says. “That’s awfully nice of us.”
Yokota ignores him, snatching her notepad back from Eames. “The government reminds me of my mother, always breathing down my neck and trying to learn what I’m up to.”
“What do you tell her?” Eames asks innocently.
“She thinks I’m a travel writer full time,” Yokota says. “I actually do sometimes do freelance write-ups under another name if I’ve got strong feelings about the places this job takes me. Never visit Vietnam during the rainy season or Alabama during anything.”
“Cheers.” Eames nods. “I wrote a gardening column once, when I needed the work and no one else was paying. Didn’t know shit about gardening until I took that up, but now I can advise you on the state of your perennials all you like.”
Yokota looks intrigued. “Can you, now?”
“When I was in Brazil, I used to pay a neighbor girl to water my window boxes while I was away, but then I made a few bad connections and one of them burned the place to the ground.”
“That’s terrible,” Yokota gasps.
“The hydrangeas were gorgeous,” Eames says sadly.
Arthur doesn’t know which one of them to stare at harder.
“Speaking of advising,” Yokota jabs her pen in Eames’s direction, suddenly the straightforward extractor once again. “You. We need to send you to Graz, but as the only German-speaker among us I’m sure you saw that coming. Tekin would visit her relatives all the time before work swallowed her up.”
Arthur has been looking into this as well. Although Tekin is nominally Jewish by birth, there’s no evidence of whether she practiced growing up, which technically he’s supposed to be checking up on despite not having set foot in a synagogue himself for close to a decade.
“Is there some reason we aren’t all going?” he asks.
“Eames needs to integrate himself and Auerbach wants us to stay local,” Yokota says distractedly. “I need you to start looking for an additional team member in case we need an interpreter once we’re down there, by the way. Tekin’s got four languages under her belt and we have no idea which one she dreams in. Unless one of you speaks Turkish or Arabic, in which case you can stop holding out any time.”
Arthur is busy tapping into his contacts, fully prepared to spend the afternoon haggling and narrowing the field, when Eames shepherds him into an empty office.
“Can we discuss things?” he demands, and Arthur realizes with dread that he isn’t referring to anything having to do with their work.
“I’m curious about you,” Eames says bluntly. “I thought I had a better handle on what goes on inside that brilliant head of yours, but apparently I was off the mark. You got yourself all in a snit the other night, but you’ve been almost polite to me today, so clearly something’s amiss. Indulge me.”
“There’s nothing to indulge. I figured you might be less of a dick to me if I offered to suck yours, that’s all. But you made it very clear that’s not your thing, so we’ve moved on. The end.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. Don’t get all angelic and genteel on me now.”
“You sound like my mother.”
“No, I don’t,” Arthur snaps. “She died when you were three and any memories you might have retained are bound to be inaccurate.”
“My metaphorical mother, you methodical twat,” Eames shoots back, unbothered. “As a matter of fact, my projection of you used to wander around wearing an apron and brandishing a rolling pin. It took hours and hours of training to work that out of my system.”
Arthur snorts. “And you say you’re straight.”
“And you accused me of being a dick,” says Eames. “So this was all strictly a business maneuver on your part, awful hamburger and all, do I have that right?”
“Yeah, you do. I’m kind of disappointed you’re turning down what could be something very beneficial for both of us, but that’s your choice.”
“Try not to overexcite yourself, darling,” Eames answers briskly. Arthur hates that he can drop endearments like it’s nothing, hates the way that makes his heart seize up like a fist even when Eames is being a patronizing asshole. “I haven’t actually turned down anything yet.”
He’s gone before Arthur can respond to that.
Eames shows up at Arthur’s rental apartment that same evening.
He’s not scheduled to leave for Graz until late next morning, so Arthur assumed he wouldn’t see him for the next several days and at least have that much time to spend smoothing out his dignity.
“I hope you haven’t eaten yet,” Eames says when Arthur answers the phone. “Open the door, by the way; I know you’re in there and this feels ridiculous.”
Arthur hangs up, but does as he’s told.
Eames is standing in the hallway, hair neatly smoothed down, dressed in an unbuttoned blazer and one of the many shirts he owns that shouldn’t look nearly as appealing on him as it does. Arthur has to try not to stare, which he suspects is part of whatever diabolical plan Eames has. “Let me guess. You just happened to be in the area even though your hotel isn’t anywhere near here.”
Eames narrows his eyes. “Lovely to see you, too, I’m sure. As I was saying, I hope you haven’t eaten yet.”
“I was going to make a sandwich and some salad. Did you want one? A little send-off before you stroll through Tekin’s past?”
“Not anymore you’re not. I’m going to show you how you’re supposed to take someone to dinner.”
He sounds so pleased with himself Arthur doesn’t have time to hide his amusement. “This isn’t going to—” he starts, but Eames is already tsking and shaking his head.
“Don’t overthink it. Are you hungry or not? Get a move on.”
It’s like something out of a film—Eames grandiosely holding out his chair for him, choosing and pouring the wine, and actually letting their feet brush under the table until Arthur mimes throwing a breadstick at him and tells him to stop treating him like a mark.
Eames doesn’t even look embarrassed, just gives him a grin and proceeds to order spaghetti, which goes against one of the cardinal rules of dating, though Arthur supposes that doesn’t matter seeing as this isn’t really a date. Apparently, the way Eames sees things, it’s more of a tutorial.
“Eames,” he can’t resist asking, since watching Eames’s mouth slurping up spaghetti has clearly made him lose his mind, “what happens when you cook spaghetti?”
“It’s delicious,” Eames says promptly, dabbing a smudge of sauce from his lower lip. Arthur tries and fails not to feel jealous of a napkin.
“Ideally, yes, but think about the state of the pasta itself. What happens to it?”
“It…goes loose and floppy?”
Arthur takes a moment to remind himself that kicking Eames would be roughly equivalent to shooting himself in the dick. “The correct answer is it’s no longer straight.”
Eames freezes, fork hovering halfway between his plate and his lips. “Are you honestly saying you want to heat me up and eat me?”
The waiter passing by doesn’t even try to hide his smirk.
“You’re definitely not making it easy,” says Arthur, “but let’s not get sidetracked.”
Eames waves a hand as if he’s clearing invisible cobwebs out of his line of sight. “Arthur, hear me out. I don’t know what sort of things you’ve heard about me, and I’d like to go on believing they’re all tales of dashing intrigue and ruthless amorality, but I don’t sleep with my marks if I can avoid it.”
If Arthur were any less poised than he is, he would be dropping his fork, overturning his wineglass, and staring like a slack-jawed fool. He limits himself to the slack-jawed staring.
“But,” Arthur stutters, “you and Kebbay, I saw you; you were—”
“Practically mauling each other, I know.” Eames deftly spins a few strands of pasta around his fork. “Practically is not actually. I’d expect you of all people to know the difference.”
“The Pedersen girl, though, you said—”
“That,” Eames cuts him off, “was a very special case.”
Arthur shrugs, tears up the remnants of his tact and scatters it to the four winds. “Maybe you’ve just never—”
And Eames just peers at him and blinks before he can finish his sentence.
No. Eames peers at him and actually bats his fucking eyes. His lashes, of course, are just as absurdly attractive as the rest of him. “Never been with the right kind of man?”
“I wasn’t going to say that,” Arthur protests weakly. “Think about it, though. When you forge, you’re trying to do everything in your power to make someone give up the goods, whatever they are. You don’t seduce a mark to be doted on and taken care of.”
“I had a bloke buy me a dozen pairs of heels once,” Eames says at last. “Gorgeous ones. I’d have gladly taken every last one of them topside with me if I could.”
“Work with me here,” Arthur practically pleads, and Eames laughs.
“I’ve been working with you ever since you strongarmed me into letting you take me out for a third-rate hamburger.”
“So this is really just my fault.”
“Precisely,” Eames says cheerfully. “But you’re so determined that it’s actually rather charming.”
Arthur picks at his shrimp. “For the record? You’re not bad at this dinner thing. And I wouldn’t just buy you shoes.”
“Is that so?” Arthur tries not to tell if he sounds intrigued.
“I wouldn’t screw you over like any of the marks, either. We extract from bigger assholes than both of us combined, Eames, you know that.”
“So you really are saying I just haven’t been with the right man.”
“I’m saying you’ve only been with guys who didn’t give a fuck what you wanted.”
Eames folds his hands and looks at him dead-on, stone-faced. “What if all I want is to be left alone?”
“Then that’s fine and I’ll deal with it,” Arthur says, a little surprised at just how composed and collected he sounds. “But do you?”
Eames hesitates, the ghost of a smile on his face. “I’m not terribly good at turning down anything that intrigues me, you understand. Do you know just how hard of a habit that is to break?”
Arthur’s heart is beating so hard it’s going to explode. Eames is flirting with him, yes, like he’s a mark, but he isn’t one and Eames knows that, just like he knows what Arthur wants, and he’s doing it anyway. “Think of it as getting field experience,” Arthur blurts out. “Go run around Austria, frolic with goats, dance in a gazebo or two, think it over.”
Later, Arthur pushes his luck and Eames lets him, accepting a small, careful almost-kiss outside his hotel. Hardly touching his mouth because he’s half scared that if he does he’ll never be able to pull away, already dizzy from the grit of Eames’s stubble against his lips, the scent of his cologne.
This is why Eames never needs to sleep with marks, Arthur realizes as Eames gives him a jovial wave and disappears into the elevator. All it takes is a smile, a look, a not-quite kiss.
Arthur’s life just got infinitely more interesting or infinitely more terrifying.
Eames became bored with explaining himself years ago. Most of the time, he doesn’t even bother and lets others draw their own conclusions. It’s made for some interesting rumors and assumptions.
Forging has always been baffling to anyone who can’t do it, which means Eames has faced bafflement as a matter of course. Almost everyone in the business seems to believe one of two things: one, that there’s some sort of step-by-step guide aspiring forgers pore over for years until they can carry out the whole process to the letter, and two, that it’s an innate ability that can’t be taught and blossoms effortlessly in a few blessed souls.
Neither of these is true. The only thing Eames ever pored over was other people’s business, and turning himself into a completely new person has never been remotely effortless.
The first time was a combination of happenstance, wishful thinking, and pain. He was hooked up to one of the PASIV’s many predecessors while SAS was teaming up with a French branch of special forces, part of a hellish new brand of hostage rescue simulation where he was the hostage and no one could rescue him until the sedative wore off. Eames is still a little aggrieved that, after all the training Her Majesty's Armed Forces cattle-prodded him through, the most grueling things he’s experienced have happened while he was asleep.
This had been a different sort of tactical questioning than any of his training had prepared him for. He said nothing, gave nothing away, and did his best to zero in on the cracks in the crown molding, the scar on the bridge of one interrogator’s nose, the framed photo of a woman on the desk behind him. Then, when it took too much effort to notice anything but how much everything hurt, he stared at the photo alone until he’d memorized every detail and his vision was marred with sweat and bruises. And he realized then that the French team members were involuntarily filling up the dream with personal quirks and affectations and Eames had been too busy bleeding to notice.
He didn’t expect anything to change when he tried to will himself into the picture, but the next thing he knew he was being shot between the eyes and waking with a jolt to find one of his teammates babbling about his mother while the medics and one of the program directors demanded to know what had happened.
And that was how it began, the subtle art of learning how to take what was precious to someone and use it against them even in the sanctity of their own subconscious.
He’s never had much luck teaching anyone else to do it, and selfishly he hopes that doesn’t change. It’s all instinctive to an extent, the same curiosity and attention to nuance that always dovetailed in Eames’s brain when he got his start replicating Ministry of Defence documents, and earlier still, copying his stepmother’s signature. The rest is all a matter of knowing how to focus on the right things at the right times and reproduce them to the letter.
None of this has ever thrown Arthur for an instant. Arthur is one of those rare birds who neither romanticizes nor questions the forging process and tends to leave well enough alone. The thing he has trouble grasping is that it’s a part of Eames’s work and not a part of his sexuality.
He's thought about it before, of course, in an idle sort of way with no real intent behind it. Eames has always been passionately inquisitive and he’s wondered what it might be like to experiment with another man in his actual body instead of while he happens to be wearing the form of someone else, but it's not anything he's ever considered acting on.
Arthur says his perspective is tainted because it’s never been about pursuing anything real, that he should have the chance to be with someone who actually gives a crap what he wants. Eames says it’s very sweet of Arthur to be so concerned for him and tries not to let on how oblivious he feels for missing this. He’s become very familiar with the art of attraction, but somehow he just never guessed Arthur liked him enough to see him that way.
“Look,” Arthur tells him during his second week in Graz, “it’s hard to say this without seeming like an asshole, but I’m betting you really haven't ever been with a guy who gives a fuck about taking care of what you want. That’s a crime if ever there was one.”
Technically, this was meant to be a quick phone update on how things are proceeding back in Berlin, but the conversation seems to have strayed.
“Yes,” Eames agrees. “One day I’ll have to write a tell-all about how dreamshare ruined my life and made me cripplingly wary of all relationships. Assuming, of course, that nobody beats me to it.”
After cracking into Arthur’s background to see what scraps of a personal life someone like him was capable of having, Eames had come to realize that he’s apparently Arthur’s type to the letter. That fascinates him more than maybe it has a right to, but he’s seen Arthur so rarely express desire for anything, let alone another person.
“I can shut up if you want,” Arthur says unceremoniously. “I just sort of figure there’s nothing left to lose at this point. So if I’m being a pushy asshole, then by all means—”
“Or,” Eames muses, “I could write a tell-all about you trying to perform inception on my sexual orientation.”
“Then I’d have to explain to everyone I team with in the future how I can’t work with you because I was consumed with lust for something that could never be.”
Eames has a shamefully terrible time trying to determine whether he’s being serious. “Consumed with lust, really? This just got even more interesting. But who I am in a dream isn’t who I am out of it,” he adds gently. “You know that.”
“Of course I know that.” He can see Arthur’s impatient moue clear as day. “Still doesn’t mean you deserve to get treated like shit every time you forge your way into someone’s pants.”
This is about as romantic as Arthur gets, but Eames supposes at least it’s a step up from the hamburger incident. “Can you please stop making it sound traumatic? Aesthetically, I’ve got no issue with the human form, whatever the sex.”
This is, in fact, true. He’s studied it in detail for spying and forging purposes and can appreciate a beautiful man as much as a beautiful woman. “Aesthetically, mind you. So long as you keep that in mind, I suppose you could kiss me when I come back,” he offers. “If you still think it’d be something you’d like.”
“Maybe if you weren’t saying it like you’re volunteering to wash my windows for the next month,” Arthur mutters. “Call me narcissistic, but I think my mouth is a little more appealing than window washing.”
“Is that what you cheeky young things are calling it these days?” Eames begins, but Arthur cuts him off.
“And don’t do things just because you think I want them. You’re a dirty bastard who only looks out for himself. Be more like that. Don’t try to walk on eggshells around me. That’s not you.” Eames can hear the sound of rustling papers in the background, probably Arthur channeling his frustrations into organization again.
“You don’t really know much about me, do you?” he says after a moment.
“I know Eames was the last name of your dearly departed riding instructor, not your grandmother’s maiden name. You wanted to be a jockey but didn’t have the build for it, and after he passed away you took up track betting.”
Eames honestly was not expecting that. “Well, I know your middle name is Nathaniel.”
“Let’s talk about something else,” Arthur says, sounding like he’s just remembered some stealthy operative could have hacked through their ironclad connection and be getting a very interesting earful.
“The weather’s great,” Eames says flatly. “Nice and cool. Lots of fresh mountain air. I’m tempted to burst into song.”
Arthur’s laugh is unexpected, a sudden blaze of summer in the midst of a mild day. “You’re in Austria, not Bermuda. I could jump on a train and be there before the sun goes down.”
“Well spotted. No wonder you’re the best in the business. So, why don’t you?”
“Why don’t I,” Arthur says quietly, and hangs up.
Eames has several years of German under his belt, part of why he’d been recruited for the Auerbach militarization in the first place, but taking in the nuances Tekin was exposed to in her childhood still eats into his time. Once he’s acclimated himself to the area and feels like he has enough of a handle on it to get by, he makes great strides into her past, pretending to be a friend she met abroad and lost touch with years ago. He settles into the Schlossberg Hotel, spins a story about being in town for business purposes, and feigns disappointment when Tekin’s mother informs him her daughter hasn’t lived there for nearly a decade.
Her parents are perfectly charming and play right into his hands, complimenting his pronunciation and directing him to all the most popular tourist sites. Eames commits their accents and mannerisms to memory for future reference, visits the Landeszeughaus and the synagogue out of pure curiosity, and tells them lie after lie about meeting their daughter in a linguistics course in Kharkiv.
The facts Eames picks up from an actual old friend of hers, a chatty bookkeeper who cheerfully rattles off all the activities she and Tekin enjoyed growing up, are filled with anecdotes fit to hinge a dream on.
“I have a few ideas about where we can take this,” he begins during a webcam caucus with Arthur and Yokota, trying to sound casual. Then he proceeds to start elaborating and braces himself.
Yokota, at one point, ducks out the line of sight covering a smile with one hand, but Arthur stays rooted to the spot, frowning and openly shaking his head. “No. Not a chance.”
“That is fantastic,” Yokota proclaims, reappearing and clearly still fending off giggles. Arthur is gaping at her as if she’s lost her mind. A second later, she checks her phone and excuses herself, giving Arthur a pat on the shoulder and telling Eames to finish bringing him up to speed, promising to be in touch shortly.
“It’s insane,” Arthur corrects firmly. “I don’t care how much Tekin liked going to the circus, I’m not about to walk around in a level built around one while her subconscious throws clowns at me.”
“Buck up, now, it’s only clowns,” Eames says.
Arthur is giving him a narrow-eyed scowl worthy of Dominic Cobb himself. “Johnny Depp is pathologically afraid of clowns.”
“Johnny Depp is not a point man,” Eames reminds him.
Arthur steals a glance over his shoulder. “Would it be a conflict of interest if I told you I’d do it if you take me to dinner once you’re back in town?”
“This would be the third date, wouldn’t it?” Every ridiculous romantic comedy Eames has ever seen flashes before his eyes.
“We’re not dating,” Arthur huffs. “But if you want to make out, I’d be more than okay with that. And I think you owe me one for this fucking circus idea.”
Eames doesn’t exactly see how the one connects to the other, but he keeps that thought to himself. “Bribery is beneath you, darling.”
“It really, really isn’t,” Arthur says seriously. “Tell me something, have you ever woken up to find a goddamn clown standing over you? Because it’s not pleasant.”
“Can’t say as I have,” admits Eames. “So, what did you have in mind for dinner?”
The first thing he does once he’s back in town is meet with Arthur, who’s wearing something so preposterously argyle it looks like a parody of itself. On Arthur, naturally, it also manages to look like the height of fashion.
“You never did come and visit me,” Eames complains. “Graz is only so interesting, you know.”
Arthur fiddles with his tie because of course his choice of restaurant is posh as posh can be this time around, now that Eames is going along with his nefarious bribes. “No, I never did.”
Eames doesn’t press the issue any further.
The other issue, that he doesn’t bring up until Arthur is halfway through his salad.
“Which job put you off clowns, then?”
Arthur’s shoulders droop slightly. “It wasn’t a job. My parents hired a clown when I turned seven and thought it would be a fantastic idea to have it to wake me up by singing happy birthday.”
He looks so disgusted with the memory that Eames finds himself grinning. “How creative of them. Is there any way at all this story could have ended well? What did you do, bludgeon some poor underpaid drone with your pillow? Attack him with a BB gun?”
“I screamed bloody murder and locked myself in the bathroom until they promised it was gone.”
Eames ends up snickering like a schoolboy far too soon to blame it on the wine.
Arthur tries his best to look resigned and put-upon when he sips at his own, but Eames can tell he’s pleased with himself.
Towards the end of the meal, he catches Arthur glancing between him and the bottle, which delights him to no end.
“Are you trying to figure out whether you’d be taking advantage of me if you asked me back to yours?”
Arthur’s face is a mask of genuine confusion. “I was actually trying to tell if there’s more than half a glass left in there.”
He pauses and looks almost shy for a moment, which is a downright hilarious contrast to his behavior up until now. “Did you want to? Come back?”
Eames coughs, and every last trope in every last rom-com he’d sternly shoved under the rug a few hours before suddenly makes a break for freedom.
Yokota is out of town, meeting with Demir about translations. Neither of them have anywhere to be tomorrow. Third date rule, his conscience singsongs at him. The laws of western cinema have spoken.
Eames doesn’t know why he’s suddenly started to take laws into account at all. He could have picked a far better time for this.
“Your mouth is the bane of my existence,” Arthur announces, and now he sounds like himself again, a little amused and a little annoyed. Eames hadn’t even realized he was biting his lip. Apparently he really is the ingénue in all this. “Look, just because I think it’s incredibly sad you’ve stayed this virtuous, I’m not going to go wild with lust and try to change that unless you want me to.”
Eames sets down his napkin and mouths wild with lust? back at him.
Arthur primly straightens his cuffs. “I’m just making a point, Mr. Eames. Don’t get all worked up yet.”
“I could have you wearing your intestines for a tie if you tried,” Eames points out brightly. “Fortunately, I expect far better of you. That and I like this suit too much to risk anyone literally spilling their guts all over it.”
“That’s kind of hot,” Arthur deadpans. Eames isn’t entirely sure whether he’s joking. “You’re not bad company, you know. Come over for a little while. We can watch old security footage and reminisce about the days of yore.”
“The real way to a man’s heart,” Eames says. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
When he pays, he notices Arthur’s face is a little pink.
They’re in Arthur’s cramped little kitchen looking for ice when Eames crowds him against the wall and kisses him.
Arthur is turning around with a glass in his hand and a question on his lips and that’s about when Eames’s baser instincts take over. Fortunately, Arthur manages to fumble the glass onto a countertop before following through with some baser instincts of his own, which in this case means smacking Eames on the shoulder and demanding, “What are you doing?”
His mouth is mashed against Eames’s, so it sounds more like a garbled squawk, but Eames didn’t make several of his names by being bad at interpreting things.
Don’t ask questions, he mentally wills him, just go with it, and for once Arthur actually does.
His mouth parts, releases a sigh that Eames swallows down eagerly. Arthur’s tongue is a tentative, velvety flicker of heat against his lips, teasing without pressing for entrance. One of his hands goes sliding around to the base of Eames’s skull and strokes experimentally. His fingers find the tender notch behind Eames’s ear, just above the hinge of his jaw, and linger there. Eames hums his approval into the heat of Arthur’s cheek.
“Seriously,” Arthur rasps, glassy-eyed and flushed when they part for air, “your mouth.” He grimaces, starts self-consciously smoothing his shirt back into place. “You probably hear that all the time, huh?”
Then he backs Eames against the counter and kisses him again with no self-consciousness whatsoever.
And it’s not as if he’s never kissed another man before, even though he’s always been asleep and wearing someone else’s skin when he’s done it, but there are things Eames notices. Things that jump out at him, like the way Arthur’s skin might look clean-shaven and baby-smooth, but the faint drag of nascent stubble belies that. Arthur’s fingers thread their way through the hair at his nape, the same hands that have handled firearms and file folders and various colleagues’ sanity, and Eames fights off a shiver even though he’s had Arthur’s hands on him hundreds of times before—he really does have difficult veins, but Arthur always manages to insert a cannula as deftly as a doctor.
He wonders if there are going to be marks, if he’s going to feel the reminder of Arthur’s kisses long afterward.
"See?” Arthur says. He’s a little out of breath now, which Eames didn’t think was even possible. He’s seen Arthur emerge from the bloodiest dreamscapes with nary a hair out of place. “Not so different, right? What would you do with a woman now?"
In a moment of inappropriately-timed honesty, Eames actually blurts out, “Take off her bra?"
Instead of sighing or shoving him or sobbing in despair, Arthur just laughs quietly. “I don’t have any of those lying around, believe it or not.”
“More’s the pity,” Eames sighs. He frowns theatrically and, just to tease, drifts a thoughtful hand down the front of Arthur’s ridiculously argyle sweater-vest. Arthur’s mouth falls open.
Eames might be a bit out of his depth, but he can still feel smug. “Problem?”
“Get over here,” Arthur grits at him, and Eames goes.
The sweater-vest stays on, as does everything else, but they do relocate to the sofa.
Arthur is…sweet, which normally isn’t even one of the top fifty words Eames would use to describe him. The way he kisses is slow-burning and gradual, his hands chastely limiting themselves to Eames’s neck and shoulders. He makes sounds against Eames’s lips, small half-swallowed gasps like he’s hungry all over again despite the meal they just ate, and Eames…well, he’s always been easily swayed by others’ enthusiasm. Part of forging is learning what makes other people tick, then learning to slip into their mindset and find out why. Arthur’s right; his curiosity really is going to bite him in the arse someday.
But until that happens, Eames is content to keep all bites literal instead of metaphorical. He’s in the midst of experimentally giving a nip to one of Arthur’s ridiculous pink-edged ears when Arthur gives a shudder and asks, rough-hewn and jagged, “What have you done?”
Eames cocks his head. “That’s a little overdramatic, wouldn’t you say? Are you going to blame me for annihilating your professionalism by being devastatingly attractive?”
Arthur gives him a withering look. “No, asshole, I mean what have you done?”
“Oh.” Eames slumps against the back of the sofa. “If you’re looking for a list of conquests, I’m afraid we’re going to be here for quite some time.” Even if he wanted to, he’s not sure he could recall every forging job he’s undertaken that required some form of seduction.
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant.” Arthur is regarding him the way he would the results of a particularly fascinating background check. He kisses him again, thumbing at the faint line of a scar on Eames’s brow.
Every job they’ve ever worked together, Arthur has been well-mannered and businesslike unless provoked to be otherwise. Apparently being in the privacy of his flat and a little kiss-drunk does wonders for his filter, since the next thing Eames knows Arthur is looking him square in the eye and sighing, “Have you really never sucked anyone off before? Not even just to try it?”
Eames’s eyebrows leap. “It’s not exactly like sampling an appetizer.”
“That’s exactly what it’s like,” Arthur grins, reveling in his inner twelve-year-old for a moment. He sobers up just as quickly, grimacing a bit and staring fixedly at one of the striped throw pillows that got knocked to the floor earlier. “Just…you’d be so good at it.”
“Is that what your much-lauded gaydar tells you?”
“That’s what these tell me.” Arthur taps his lips with one tapered finger. “Seriously, not even once?”
This isn’t a conversation Eames ever thought he’d be having, but what the hell, he’s prattled through far worse. A lot of what keeps him from shying away is the sincerity of Arthur’s responses, how genuine all these hamfisted inquiries really are. When Eames grips his chin and holds him in place to give the most maddeningly light brush of lips to the corner of Arthur’s mouth, Arthur’s lashes dip in pleasure and he leans in without seeming to have any idea he’s doing it. Eames lets him go with a chuckle. “Nothing about this in my file, I take it?”
“I don’t have a file,” Arthur protests, and Eames is sure this isn’t strictly true. Arthur has files for everything. “I’m just trying to learn what you like, what you don’t like, if there’s anything I should avoid doing, if I’m going to start getting your therapy bills in the mail. You know, the usual.”
This part, Eames doesn’t doubt. Arthur is good at taking people apart and finding their weaknesses. If he can't get Eames to drop his pants, he can at least get him to drop his guard. Then maybe pants later.
“Are you sure you don’t have an entire moleskine dedicated to this?” Eames teases.
Arthur draws himself up. “I have a vested interest in what it takes to make you feel amazing.”
“You sort of already are.”
“I don’t settle for sort of.” He squirms in closer, a crooked smile on his face before he ducks it against Eames’s jaw. “I bet I could make you come with just a finger.”
Eames tenses up so intensely it actually surprises him.
“Have you ever done that?” Arthur asks gently, backing off. “Or if you’d rather just talk about the weather, we can do that too.”
There are things Eames has always pulled the brakes on, things he’s never really felt a desire for, things he’s never experimented with in spite of the limitless realms of both dreaming and human prurience. “Ah. Had a girlfriend who was into it a bit.”
Now Arthur looks frighteningly interested. “Huh.”
“Receiving, not giving,” Eames clarifies, and fuck all if his ears don’t feel like they’re about to burn their way right off his head. “Personally, I don’t…you know what, watching old security footage was a wonderful idea. We ought to get on that.”
Arthur waves a hand carelessly. “I’ve had an entire fist up there. You can stop blushing any time now.”
Eames stares, gives him an involuntary once-over. He’s starting to suspect Arthur’s enjoying this far too much. “You have a funny way of putting people at ease.”
“I said we could talk about the weather,” Arthur points out. “I don’t get it. Chivalry is supposed to be dead. You’re a master thief and all-around horrible person, and you’ve got standards about kissing and telling. That’s so bizarre it’s almost cute.”
“Paradox,” Eames says tartly. “Just your type. And who’s horrible here? You’re the one doing all the corrupting.”
Arthur laughs and laughs.
Germany is more dedicated to cracking down on mobilization of extremist groups than on individual suspects. The underlying belief is that a nation shouldn’t have to wait for terrorist acts to occur, but should nip them in the bud, which is why Tekin is monitoring to make sure nothing is in the works. Yokota and Arthur have been clucking and shaking their heads over this like a pair of disapproving dowagers.
“Being devout doesn’t mean you want to force it down everyone’s throat,” Arthur sniffs.
Eames exchanges glances with Demir and mimes taking a drink. “And being a fan of the circus doesn’t mean you want to force clowns down everyone’s throats either, but it’s a possibility we need to prepare for. Are you going under with us or not?”
“Please don’t mention clowns forcing anything down anyone’s throat,” Arthur says calmly. “And no, someone needs to monitor the dreamers, so I think I’m sitting this one out.”
Yokota finishes scrawling something on yet another piece of chart paper and adhering it to one of the few remaining portions of available wall space. “I’ll do it. I want to finish figuring out the best time to catch Tekin at home and you haven’t been down yet anyway, have you?”
“Arthur,” Eames interjects, watching as Arthur’s fingers curl around his pen in a rather murderous manner, “can I speak with you for a moment first?”
When he leads Arthur into the empty conference room, Arthur doesn’t last five seconds before slumping into a chair as if he’s had his legs cut out from under him. “This job sucks.”
He’s tense. If his hair weren’t slathered half to death with pomade, Eames would reach out and stroke him like a cat. “I know it’s not exactly up your street, but it’ll all be over in a few weeks. What would Johnny Depp do?”
“Have a clause in his contract that explicitly states he doesn’t do clowns,” Arthur grumbles.
He looks so pale and rattled Eames doesn’t think twice about sitting beside him and drawing him into a one-armed embrace. Arthur leans on him, sighing, tilting his head for a kiss, and that’s when Eames has an absolutely brilliant idea.
“Tell you what. For every hostile projection you take down, I’ll give you one of these.”
It’s a bit awful, really, using Arthur’s crush as part of the job, but Arthur knows him well enough to expect no better and seems keen enough on the idea of trading corpses for kisses besides. He does haggle with Eames about the duration and thoroughness of kisses to be collected first, but then, Eames expected no better of him either.
Arthur levels seventeen projections that first day. By the time evening rolls around, Eames is making out with him on his sofa all over again.
The next day, Arthur nearly doubles his headcount. Then, when Yokota decides they need to go under once more to work out some issues with the layout, he surprises everyone by volunteering and ends up adding a few more.
Working through the payout takes a while. Arthur ends up supine on the sofa, mouth hanging open and breath coming in harsh little jags as Eames learns every last detail about his apparently very sensitive neck. They take a break when the swell of Arthur’s cock against Eames’s thigh becomes a little too evident to ignore—Arthur ends up crimson-faced and gasping, and Eames can’t take his eyes off him. They eat dinner at Arthur’s half-moon shaped table and discuss whether it’s fair for Demir to receive the pay cut he’s due even if they have no need for his services in Tekin’s subconscious after all, and everything seems as close to normal as lives like theirs can ever claim to.
The third day, Arthur gets wily. “Can I redeem any of these for something besides kissing?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I don’t know, maybe five projections means you have to take something off? Just for example.”
“Right, since it’s not like you’ve been sitting up at night determining the proper exchange rate or anything.”
“Definitely not,” says Arthur, and sips at the milky, sugared-up apostate he insists on calling coffee. “Is that a yes?”
Eames is actually more than okay with letting him push the limits. It’s a nice novelty, playing games with someone he knows won’t stab him in the back. He knows Arthur’s history inside and out, and Arthur has never once turned on a colleague, though he has struck down a few who tried to turn on him first. And, up until now, this relationship has served them both perfectly well.
Which is why it seems to come out of nowhere when Eames arrives at Arthur’s flat, bearing takeout and prepared to pay up the requisite number of kisses, and Arthur solemnly sits him down and says, “You’re not just doing this to humor me, right?”
He really can’t blame Arthur for being unsure. Trust in the world of dreamshare can be a very fleeting thing. And Eames has never had another man pay him this kind of attention before, not outside of a dream, so for all he knows he’s breaking cardinal rules left and right.
“I’m doing this because you’re incorrigible and a little endearing,” Eames says. “And because you have a bizarre objection to personifications of happiness.”
“Clowns are spawn of the devil,” Arthur corrects him. “Don’t try and make excuses for them.” He pokes at a corner of one of the takeout boxes for a bit, which is torture since Eames isn’t about to be a dick and rush him along but he also happens to be starving.
Finally, Arthur clears his throat. “Just let me say this, okay? You’re not the kind of guy who does things out of pity, I know that, but it never hurts to be sure. And, uh, I’m not pining or writing sonnets or anything, I just think you’re an exquisite example of the masculine form even when you’re wearing mauve. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna push for anything you don’t want or pitch a fit if I don’t get it.”
Eames waits for a beat, then reaches over and covers Arthur’s fidgeting hands with one of his own. “Arthur. Darling, neurotic Arthur. Did you practice this in front of the mirror?”
“The mauve part was ad-libbed. I can never predict your wardrobe.”
Eames gives his hands a squeeze. “I don’t let just any fit-but-lecherous young coworker take me for long walks up the Kinsey scale, you know.”
When Arthur’s dimples appear, Eames firmly kisses each one and doesn’t even subtract it from the grand total.
Arthur tends to play his cards close to the vest and has a rather dry sense of humor, so he doesn't come off as the most accessible person on earth. It's interesting to Eames that he's seeing a new side of him.
At the moment, this new side of Arthur is making the most scandalous sounds against Eames’s mouth and has a hand up his shirt to boot.
“’m gonna need to cash in,” Arthur announces when they break apart for air.
“Five down it is, then.” Half the buttons on Eames’s shirt are undone as it is, so he figured it was only a matter of time and practicality before Arthur got around to ridding him of it. “What am I losing?”
“Ten down, and you’re not,” Arthur says, and shimmies out of his shirt and undershirt in record time.
At first, all Eames can do is gawk.
He’s always known Arthur was more than just a skinny little paper-pusher of a point, no matter how many layers he tends to bundle himself up in, but seeing him without any layers at all is doing Eames’s head in. Arthur wanders around with rolled-up sleeves often enough for Eames to be familiar with the corded stretch of his forearms, so logically it makes sense for the rest of him to be in decent shape, he knows this. Still, Arthur undressed from the waist up is a vision of supple muscles and olive skin and Eames can’t seem to stop staring at him.
“Can I help you?” Arthur asks innocently. He’s already slipped his hands back up Eames’s middle and started trailing those long, wicked fingers across the hard peaks of his nipples.
“I thought you’d be scrawnier.”
Arthur makes a face at him and pinches.
“Interesting,” he says blandly when Eames cries out. “Please, tell me more.”
“Scrawnier, pastier, maybe a little warty,” Eames carries on blithely, still reeling a bit as Arthur experimentally lets his nails graze against him. “You’re a terrible letdown.”
Arthur tries to hide a grin and fails abysmally.
Somehow, once Arthur finishes collecting his dues, they wind up having a Die Hard marathon and snickering their way through the majority of it. By then it’s late enough that Arthur offers to let him stay the night if he wants to and Eames is just tired enough to agree. He finds himself in Arthur’s bed, quite literally, while Arthur spends the night on the sofa.
In the morning, Eames feels like a heel for letting it happen at all.
The fourth day, they bypass Arthur’s sofa entirely, Eames actually does end up sans shirt, and Arthur ends up practically rubbing one out against his thigh.
“God.” Arthur’s voice is strained, muffled by the way he’s going to town on Eames’s shoulder, “You’re so fucking hot. Can I—can’t I just—fuck—” Eames doesn’t expect him to get a coherent sentence out, but the next thing he knows Arthur’s grinding and gasping and begging Eames to let him make him come, please, just once. “It’ll be so good, I swear, just let me—”
Eames’s brain immediately supplies a quick and dirty slideshow of everything he’s used to: any number of lithe and laughing girls he’s pulled onto his lap, soft smooth breasts, curving hips, wet perfect cunts he can lick and tease and fuck. And then there’s Arthur, with his low voice and plastered-down hair and penchant for trousers that cling to his arse like cellophane, and he certainly seems to know what he’s doing even though it’s not at all what Eames is used to dealing with in real life. Then again, there’s not much artistry involved in kissing someone senseless and letting them rut up against you, which is precisely what’s going on now.
Gently, he tips Arthur’s chin up with two fingers. “How about this. Tomorrow, if we make it through a run without either of the levels fucking us over in some way, I’ll let you do whatever you like.”
Arthur smiles, shudders against him.
“Within reason,” Eames adds sternly.
Arthur just hums and sucks Eames’s fingers into his mouth.
Their dry run, of course, ends up going perfectly for the first time ever.
Arthur has an appointment with Auerbach afterward, which leaves Eames with a couple of hours to kill. He does what he can to stay busy—goes for a walk, tries a new restaurant, has a shower, plays Angry Birds, tries not to wonder just what he’s gotten himself into. But whatever Arthur has in mind, he takes his time mentioning it.
It’s not until they’re back in Arthur’s bedroom, kissing until Eames’s lips are sore and Arthur’s hair is a holy mess, that it happens.
“I want to suck your cock.”
Arthur’s eyes are huge, all dilated pupils. His voice is nothing but a gruff whisper at Eames’s ear.
“This is within reason, right?” Arthur hedges. “No guy says no to a blowjob.”
“You’ve always been logical,” Eames says faintly.
“Are you sure? You did make me sleep on the couch the other night, so I don’t want to presume anything.”
“Made you?” Eames sputters. “Your exact words were I insist.”
Arthur’s face falls into a rather sulky expression. “Yeah, they were, but you weren’t supposed to actually let me sleep on the couch.”
“My apologies. Next time I’ll thank you for being a gentleman and take you in my arms. Fair?”
“I really don’t understand how you ever manage to seduce anyone.”
Eames shrugs and slowly strips off his shirt.
“I stand corrected,” Arthur amends, perking up.
Arthur, as it turns out, is a horrible tease—which is saying quite a bit, since no one knows the art of teasing quite like Eames. He leaves hot, sucking kisses across Eames’s chest and belly, tonguing gently at his nipples and moaning all the while like he’s being paid by the second. He doesn’t remove a stitch of his own clothing, but he undoes Eames’s trousers one-handed only to palm him through his boxers until Eames can feel sweat beading on his brow.
He’s flat on his back, wriggling his hips around like an idiot trying get his slacks the rest of the way off, and that’s when Arthur draws back the elastic of his pants and licks.
And licks. And licks. Arthur learns the shape of him as if he’s trying to memorize it in case he never has the chance again. He spends an eternity easing the tip of his tongue under the edge of Eames’s foreskin and suckling at it until Eames is ready to grip him by his red-flushed ears and beg for mercy. By the time Arthur neatly draws his lips over his teeth and goes down on him, wet and slow and sinfully hot, Eames is a wreck.
Even with his mouth full, Arthur is still groaning low in his throat, like he’s getting off on just the act of making this good for Eames. Maybe showing off a bit as well just to prove how thorough he is at everything he does, to rub Eames’s nose in exactly what kind of skill he’s been depriving himself of all this time.
It’s working alarmingly well. Eames is achingly hard and writhing where he lies. He lets out an actual whine when Arthur stops and pulls off.
It’s only for a minute, just long enough for Arthur to guide his knees apart even more and nuzzle at him, lipping at the insides if his thighs. There’s a strangled sigh, the sound of a drawer being opened, and then Arthur’s hand is slick around him. He eases it down, cradles Eames’s balls where they’re drawn up tight, but one finger is stroking at him a tad more ambitiously. "Doing okay? Need a little more?”
Eames’s hips buck.
Arthur’s mouth sinks back down onto him. Eames hears his hand patting its way across the covers, searching, and then that finger is back, petting gently up behind his balls and grazing ever so lightly against a part of his body Eames scarcely even thinks about. “Do you like this?" Arthur murmurs. “Can I?”
It’s strange that Arthur still thinks of him as someone who needs to be coddled and doted on, at least in bed. One thing Eames has noticed in Arthur’s ruthless treatment of projections and inefficient coworkers alike is that their lean little point man loves making men bigger than him whimper. Which Eames is dangerously close to doing anyway, so maybe it’s not so strange after all. And now Eames is nodding, tongue tripping over every other word but forcing them out anyway: okay, yeah, just take it easy.
"Can’t believe no one’s ever done this for you, fuck." Arthur pauses, sucking gently at the glossy head of his cock, letting his tongue ease against the slit. His clean hand drifts down to clasp Eames behind the knee, urging him to bend them so he can slip the very tip of a finger back and between and—fuck—in.
Eames refuses to bite down on a pillow to stifle himself just on principle, but he’s sorely tempted.
“Ease up for me, Eames. I’m not trying to lose a finger here.”
“You’ve really got to work on whispering sweet nothings. Oh. Jesus, fuck—oh.”
Arthur smiles beatifically, presses in a little deeper. “Remember what I said about getting you off with one finger?”
Eames has just enough presence of mind to flash Arthur a finger of his own in return. Then everything is white lights and creative cursing and Arthur’s mouth tight and filthy and brutal around him once again, Arthur’s touch rubbing relentlessly up inside him.
He comes back down to the sight of Arthur wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Still fully dressed.
Eames knows he should gather him close, strip him bare, at the very least reach over and get him off in return—there’s an impressive bulge in the front of his trousers—but all he can think about is the slickness between his thighs and what comes next and how he’s not at all prepared for it.
Arthur makes it known that he's fine with taking things into a dream if that's more to Eames's liking. He’s nothing but polite when he points out they don’t have to do it again if Eames didn’t care for it. He’s saying all the right things and Eames couldn’t ask for more.
And Eames leaves him hanging anyway. He gets acquainted with Arthur’s shower instead of with Arthur’s cock, natters on about needing to be up early, and hightails it out the door before Arthur has time to raise an eyebrow.
He hates himself for it, but his knee-jerk reaction is to just not communicate with Arthur for a little while afterward. He uses the weekend to make another trip to Graz, after feeding a stack of excuses to Yokota about the importance of double-checking his data. Eames has never been one to run away from his problems unless his problems are armed or outnumber him. He’s entirely aware that disappearing isn’t the best choice and has to rattle Arthur somewhat, but he does it anyway.
There’s nothing but radio silence from Arthur’s end, which Eames supposes makes sense. There really isn’t any way of bridging this sort of gap that isn’t awkward as hell. He keeps checking his phone anyway, half-expecting a text from Arthur along the lines of sorry for helping you realize you have a sensitive prostate & giving you that amazing orgasm—brunch 2morow?
This doesn’t happen.
What happens is Eames doing research, which in this case takes the form of watching gay porn. This is also not the best choice, something he realizes only after he’s sufficiently overwhelmed and wondering why porn stars can’t ever just fucking snuggle for once. He’s obviously losing his senses.
He goes out for a drink or two, strikes up a conversation with a woman just to remind himself he can. But she's a stranger and Arthur isn't, even though Arthur's a man, and even though she has beautiful breasts and he’d love to fuck her, even though he ends the night with lipstick on his mouth and a new number in his mobile, something is off.
He’s too old for a sexuality crisis, fuck it all.
It’s not that he’s never been with men before, he’s just always been a woman at the time. Eames disassociates to a degree when he's forging. It’s about becoming another person entirely, not waging war with himself over whether he can relate to them. He’s always preferred not to bring his work home with him in that sense, the way architects are taught never to build from memory. Putting too much of yourself into a forgery is riskier than slipping into each role like a costume.
This isn’t something he likes dwelling on. There aren't many people who can forge and maintain it the way he can, so it's not as if there's a support group for discussing these things. The closest he has, really, is Arthur.
“Why are you telling me this?”
Arthur, predictably, is unmoved by metaphor.
Eames, fresh off the train, is standing meekly outside his door but Arthur isn’t showing any sign of inviting him inside even though it’s past midnight. “Because you were right. At work, it doesn’t matter if the mark has leprosy, halitosis, and a fetish for chinchillas. It’s my job to play a role and make them give me what I want.”
Arthur’s frown deepens. “You woke me up for this?”
“What I’m getting at,” Eames plows on, “is that it’s not like that with you. You’re a bit terrifying, did you know that?”
He stumbles when Arthur takes hold of his collar and actually hauls him over the threshold. “Stop with the humility and get in here. I’m guessing you weren’t planning on going back to your hotel, huh? If you—”
He sounds like he’s working his way up to a well-earned tirade, one Eames is prepared to weather like a pro, but then Arthur interrupts himself with a spectacular yawn and seems to lose most of his steam. “Never mind. I’m too fucking tired for this. Did you want the bed? I’ll take the couch.”
This is one of several things Eames tried not to think about over the weekend and therefore ended up thinking about extensively. “As lovely as your bed is, I was hoping not to end up in it alone.” Arthur’s had his mouth on his cock, for God’s sake, which is miles more risqué than sharing a bed, and they’ve slept inches away from each other hundreds of times before.
Arthur looks a little suspicious, but he nods and leads the way to the bedroom all the same.
“I wasn’t sure you were going to show up again,” he says finally, somewhat more subdued once he’s under the covers. “I was going to call in a favor with Carlo and have him take over if I didn’t hear from you by the end of the week.”
“You don’t even like Carlo.”
“I don’t have to like someone to know they do good work. It’s just a nice bonus when that happens.”
He says it like it’s nothing. Eames is suddenly glad for the darkness, glad that Arthur is facing away from him. There are a thousand different personas he could pull on to fight this battle for him, but Arthur doesn’t deserve that. Some of the other things he reluctantly ended up dwelling on while he was away included everything from the crisp smell of Arthur’s aftershave to just how easygoing he can be for someone who cultivates such an uptight reputation. But these aren’t the sorts of things he has a prayer at hammering into cohesive sentences just now.
When he touches Arthur’s bare shoulder, his whole body goes stiff at first.
“Hey,” Eames whispers. “Come here?” And Arthur, bless him, lets himself be turned over, lets Eames draw him in closer and drop a dry little kiss on the crest of his cheek.
“So,” Arthur asks around another yawn, “what kind of torture did you put yourself through after you left?”
“Research overdose,” Eames admits, and watches as realization dawns on him.
“Fuck. You didn’t.”
“I seem to have spooked myself into a corner,” Eames says, abashed. “You should see some of the things some of things these blokes get up to, though I suppose you presumably already have.”
“This is all really fascinating, not to mention disturbing and flattering at the same time, but have you noticed I’m not actually a porn star?”
Eames thinks of telling him how, in Graz, he tried to press himself open while he was in the shower but it just wasn’t the same. He thinks of admitting that he can't even begin to imagine all the effort it would take with anything bigger than a finger or two, that he’s seriously been wondering if he should call up all his exes and apologize. Maybe cocks just aren't as fun if you're on the receiving end.
Granted, Arthur was talking about getting fisted that one time, but Arthur's always been an odd duck. He still catches himself picturing Arthur's arse and thinking but how?
“Oddly enough,” Eames murmurs into his hair, “I prefer you just as you are.”
In retrospect, Arthur should have known he would end up in the closet. After all, nothing else about the Tekin job had been going according to plan.
The dream itself was essentially just what he had anticipated, give or take a few notches of trauma.
He was sure the projections on the lower level would all be cordial to Eames, who blended right in since he’d studied the German accent from Tekin’s hometown and was able to emulate it. Arthur, on the other hand, scarcely spoke any at all and was left trying to keep from attracting the attention of the projections on the upper level.
Of course, just as he’d feared, the projections happened to be clowns. Armed German-speaking clowns.
Arthur spends the majority of his time dreaming up increasingly creative weapons while Eames and Yokota perform the extraction on the second level and wondering why the hell Tekin couldn’t have had an affinity for muscular, spandex-clad acrobats instead of goddamn clowns.
After the four of them wake, Yokota leaves Tekin’s flat first. Arthur has just finished shooing Eames and Demir out the door when the phone rings. Horrifically, Tekin begins to stir while he’s still stabilizing her on the couch.
He finishes putting away the PASIV in record time, triple-checking the area for stray syringes before darting into the only available hiding place that seems remotely practical, which happens to be the closet. It’s partway between the kitchen and living room and Arthur all but dives in headfirst.
The closet doesn’t contain much besides a few boxes and what he assumes must be spare linens and some winter clothes. The darkness is near absolute. All he can do is squeeze himself into a corner and hope Tekin doesn’t need to put anything away. Arthur makes sure his phone is silenced, grips his Glock in one hand and the PASIV in the other, and waits.
Outside, he can hear the hushed sound of her phone conversation, which is of course in fucking German, which means he’s not even getting any extra information out of this mishap. Arthur can’t tell how long the chat lasts, just that it’s enough time for both his feet to fall asleep, tingle back to life, and fall asleep again. The only silver lining is that Tekin carries on all the while with seemingly no realization that she’s just had a handful of strangers chiseling pieces of information out of her subconscious. It’s almost enough to have him congratulating himself on a job well done.
When she eventually gets off the phone, the sound of footsteps in front of the closet—traveling towards the kitchen, then back—happens too many time for him to count, giving him a minor heart attack with each pass. Arthur grits his teeth and tries to will her into running errands or taking a shower or just plain falling asleep again, but she seems to have settled in for the evening since the next thing he knows he’s smelling food and hearing dishes being moved around. By his estimation, it’s going to be at least another few hours before Tekin starts entertaining the notion of going to bed, but he supposes there’s still a fairly good chance she’ll leave after dinner.
Then he catches a few words that make his blood run cold.
Arthur wasn’t raised in a particularly religious household, but he knows a Kiddush when he hears one.
His mind hurtles into a tailspin. It makes no sense: Tekin’s cover is Muslim, there’s no evidence the Jewish side of her family was especially devout growing up, and Arthur has no fucking clue how many halakhic laws she keeps—she just got off the phone, for fuck’s sake—but if she’s dead set on not leaving her flat for the duration of Shabbat then he’s essentially screwed. They’d timed things so carefully, noting that she tended to stay in for the rest of the night after attending jum'ah at the nearest mosque, but never considered this.
Ha-motzi is next and Arthur is ready to scream. It kind of sucks and he feels bad for her, almost, stuck celebrating Shabbat alone and clearly missing her family, but he’s not sure he can last the rest of the evening jammed in a fucking closet waiting for something terrible to happen.
He almost misses it, but some time later there’s the unmistakable sound of a frenzied conversation, of a door opening and closing—a door too far to be the pantry and too near to be the bedroom. Arthur strains his ears for any hint of sound, but there’s nothing.
His throat is parched, but he forces himself to swallow all the same, hands aching from being curled around his gun and the handle of the PASIV so hard. Every muscle in his body is tensed, ready to leap out and make a break for it, but a small voice of caution in the back of his mind keeps him in check. For all he knows, it wasn’t the front door at all, and even if it was Tekin could still be in the hallway just outside.
Then his phone vibrates in his pocket and it takes every fragment of his self-control not to shriek and jump out of his skin.
It’s a text from Eames, one word only.
He’s still staring at it when another message arrives.
get out. now.
Arthur takes his chances and runs.
He’s ready to jump through the usual hoops of clearing out of his accommodations, hopping the first flight out of the country, and following up with everyone from a safe distance. Arthur sends out a quick text to the rest of the team, ambiguous but clear—“out”—and then makes for his flat, still keyed up from being cramped in the closet and waiting for everything to blow up in his face. Almost immediately, Eames texts him an unfamiliar name, a new address, and a room number.
Arthur snaps his SIM card into pieces and goes.
He doesn’t expect, when he arrives at the hotel, for Eames to be waiting there for him. He’d assumed Eames had done him the courtesy of booking him a new room. It’s a common enough procedure for after completing an extraction, one team member taking on the task of relocating the others or arranging their flights under an alias, but not actually sticking around to enjoy it with them. Arthur usually sticks to a policy of dropping all contact for at least a month after working with anyone unless there was some sort of emergency, an unfortunate precaution he and Eames have both gotten more and more lax about upholding of late.
But if there’s one thing Arthur’s going to remember this job for, it’s the lack of precautions.
“I hate Shabbat,” he says, and throws everything down while Eames’s face goes sharp with understanding.
“How could we overlook that?” Eames wonders. “And you especially.”
“I’m not actually very good at being Jewish.”
“No one’s perfect. You know, technically, you shouldn’t be performing extractions on the Sabbath anyway.”
“Which part of lapsed do you not understand?”
“Sit down and shut your mouth, please, Arthur. It’s after sundown. No more working for you.”
“I’m going to kill you,” Arthur says, sighing as Eames steers him towards the bed.
“I’m sorry, I believe slaughtering is one of those five thousand things you’re not allowed to do. Arms, please.”
“Thirty-nine,” Arthur mutters, but he does hold out his arms and let Eames draw off his shirt.
“Whatever. Now lie still and shut your mouth or this will really hurt.”
He bellyflops onto the mattress, reveling in how good it feels to stretch out again after being hunched in Tekin’s closet. It gets even better when Eames slides a palm up the notches of his spine, over the cotton of his undershirt.
“Is this okay?”
Eames has both broad hands splayed over his shoulders, thumbs working away at the tension gathered there. Arthur can’t reassure him fast enough.
“I’ve always had great appreciation for polyglots, you know,” Eames chatters on, like he isn’t bringing Arthur to pieces with his hands and his heat and the lulling cadence of his accent. “Never thought I’d have the attention span to learn another language myself. It turns out I’ll do almost anything under the right circumstances. All that German really has paid off.”
And that’s the problem, Arthur tries to say, Eames and his attention span, Eames’s way of noticing something else intriguing and putting everything else on hold to investigate it. Now that the job is done, Eames is going to move on, mark Arthur off as an amusing little experiment, and they’ll never speak of it again and Arthur can’t bear to think about it. But at least here, in this moment, Eames’s attention is still entirely on him and he can’t protest.
“What happened?” he asks instead. “I thought I’d be in there all night.”
“I’d never let that stand, love. A closet is such a lonely place to be.”
“If I could move, I would kick you right now.”
Eames chuckles. “No, you wouldn’t.” His hands ease up under the hem of Arthur’s shirt and Arthur could fucking melt. “Yokota and I waited for over an hour to hear from you. When you still didn’t show, I bribed a neighbor to pound on the door and cry for help, saying her granddaughter fell down the stairs and needed assistance. Wasn’t entirely sure Tekin would go with it, but I suppose it would have looked even odder if she hadn’t.”
“She had to leave because she thought someone was hurt,” says Arthur. “Pikuach nefesh. You can’t just not respond to something like that.” He grins against the pillow. “That was pretty low. You’re such an asshole.”
“You’re quite welcome, I’m sure,” Eames sniffs, and lightly drags his nails down Arthur’s back.
For a blissfully long time, Arthur gives himself up to it all, the softness of the bed beneath him and the firm kneading pressure of Eames’s touch working him over.
“Are you sleeping?” Eames asks softly.
Through a fog of hebetude, Arthur musters a yes.
The hands pause. “Should I stop?”
“No,” Arthur says immediately, relaxed enough that he ends up stretching the word into something that’s nearly a whine.
The last thing he remembers before succumbing to sleep is Eames smiling softly against his nape.
Considering how much Arthur had been looking forward to spending some down time in Cyprus, Eames is a little surprised when he only disappears for a fortnight before darkening Eames’s doorstep.
“I was passing through,” Arthur tells him matter-of-factly. “I never thanked you, did I?”
Eames lets him in.
“You know,” he points out, in lieu of actually drawing Arthur’s attention to just how late it is, “you could have just sent a card.”
Arthur ducks and shrugs, stunning in charcoal herringbone. Eames is in boxers and nothing else, but he refuses to feel underdressed in his own house when it’s coming up on midnight. “Should I leave?”
Eames tips his head up and kisses him. “Don’t be silly.”
“Cyprus sucked without you,” Arthur says seriously. “And I realized I never told you how many projections I took down during that last job.”
“I’m hurt that you’re only here to collect on your outstanding balance,” says Eames. “Have you eaten? I did a teriyaki stir-fry earlier, nothing fancy.”
Arthur doesn’t move a muscle, staring at him like a man possessed. Eames is waiting for his head to spin around three hundred and sixty degrees when he straightens his shoulders and announces, “So, I think maybe I missed you.”
“You have awful priorities,” Eames says, vaguely pleased with himself for taking all this in stride. “I thought for sure you’d be having a grand time rolling in money and sleeping with bronzed Mediterranean godlets.”
“I didn’t.” Arthur’s hand is around his own then, squeezing. “Eames, I’m serious. No one’s ever gotten me out of a tight situation quite as elegantly and unscrupulously as you. Thanks.”
Eames takes him to bed without another word said.
It’s something Eames could get used to, sharing a bed with someone he’s sure won't try to strangle him in the night. He’s learned from past experiences just how real of a risk this can be. He and Arthur have only done this on a few occasions, but each time they’ve kept to their own separate sides for the most part. It gives him a bit of a start when Arthur strips down to his briefs and more or less cuddles up to him. This isn’t something Eames has come to expect of him. This is new.
“Arthur. What are you doing?”
He can feel Arthur’s sigh against the back of his head. “Trying to spoon you, moron.”
“Shouldn’t it be the other way round?”
"Fuck you, I'm taller."
“God, you’re cranky when you’re fresh off the plane.”
“’m not fresh off,” Arthur grumbles. “I got a hotel room and changed first.”
“Ah yes, because I obviously would have judged you for popping by looking like a normal human being.”
“Can you please shut up and let me enjoy the moment?”
“If you insist. You’re surprisingly comfortable for such a skinny, pasty little thing.”
At his back, Arthur mutters something that sounds like, “Should’ve fucking stayed in Cyprus,” but he seems to relax a little.
It’s not until Eames is drifting on the fringes of sleep when he gets a very direct reminder of just how complicated spooning can be. He tries to wriggle out from under Arthur’s arm, but each time Arthur only makes a small disappointed sound and curls it around him a little more tightly. Eames can’t quite manage to reconcile the close-fitting cut of Arthur’s underwear with the dimensions of the cock pressed up against the small of his back, which is probably the last thing on earth he should be thinking about if he has any intention of falling asleep tonight.
He gives up. “Darling, don’t take this the wrong way, but this isn’t the most comfortable position in the world.”
There are, Eames figures, two ways this can go. Arthur can either bolt or acknowledge it. Being a logical young man, he chooses the latter.
"I can go in the bathroom for a few minutes, I can stay where I am and do nothing, or I can take care of things without going into the bathroom. Your call, Mr. Eames."
"Please don't call me that while your cock is practically up my arse."
Arthur squirms. “Please stop talking about having things up your ass. You know, if your ass wasn’t carved by Raphael, we wouldn’t be having this problem."
“Raphael wasn’t a sculptor.”
“Thank God you told me. That was really going to keep me up at night.”
“Anytime. Now, while we’re on the subject of being kept up at night, are you going to have a wank or not?”
Fatigue combined with curiosity has made him bold. Eames has seen Arthur in various stages of undress, but he’s never actually seen him naked. When Arthur flops onto his back, gives him an arch look, and skims off his briefs, Eames honestly has no idea how he’s meant to proceed. Fortunately, Arthur doesn’t seem to be judging him. Arthur nonchalantly licks his hand and actually starts getting himself off smack in the middle of his bed like there’s no place he’d rather be.
Eames watches—taking in the way Arthur’s head falls back against the pillows, the way his thighs strain apart, the way his fist flies up and down the flushed length of his cock—and then gets a little braver.
“Er, what are you thinking of?” he ventures.
“What to have for breakfast,” Arthur says blandly, gripping himself a little harder. “Mmm, hash browns.”
Eames snorts. "See if I help you rub one out again. And here I thought maybe you were thinking about my arse, but oh no."
“I don’t—” Arthur looks pained, interrupts himself long enough to emit a poorly muffled groan. “I don’t wanna to say anything that makes this any weirder than it already is for you.”
“Oh, for the love of…” Eames mutters, and touches him. Arthur's skin is searing hot under his fingertips, nipples pink and peaked and so sensitive when he bends in and kisses one. “And you’re the one who said chivalry is dead. I’m not going to force you out into the cold for speaking your mind. Besides, anything’s better than getting off to thoughts of breakfast, yeah?”
“I wanna fuck you,” Arthur whispers.
“Just…just with fingers again, even, whatever you’re okay with. You felt so good and you took it so…and I want that again, fuck. I really want it.”
It's not that Eames didn't know this, but hearing it while Arthur is jerking himself off in his home, in his bed…Christ, that’s something else.
“Tell me more,” he says softly, smoothing Arthur’s hair off his brow before leaning back in to kiss just over the pulse point on his neck. He might be a bit out of his area of expertise, but he's as prurient as the next person and he likes having his ego stroked by someone who actually means it and isn't just trying to flatter him into a job.
Arthur whines, catches at his wrist with his other hand, drags it down his stomach and, yeah, Eames can do this, it’s nothing he hasn’t done to himself a million times. “Fuck, please, I need—”
This is all a little overwhelming, but not unpleasantly so. He's never actually seen Arthur's cock before, let alone touched it, and the way Arthur cries out and arches when he finally does is fascinating. “There’s a love,” Eames murmurs, and Arthur’s mouth parts around a small moan, Arthur’s hand grips hotly at his own. He’s burning up, a slim squirming length of livewire in Eames’s bed; it only takes a minute more before he’s spattering his belly with come. His toes are curled.
Eames is halfway through offering to get him something to clean off with when Arthur, ever the pragmatist, gives him a calculating look. "Or. You could come on me and then get one."
Eames damn near chokes, but doesn't disagree.
Arthur just stretches out and opens his mouth and, all right, that's a little more than Eames anticipated.
Arthur looks on with hooded eyes when Eames works his boxers off his hips. “Fuck, Eames. This is why I didn’t last in Cyprus, you know.”
He lasts a ridiculously short time. What tips him over the edge is Arthur’s fingers feathering down along the groove of his hipbone and Arthur’s voice wrapping warm and low around all manner of dirtiness. “God, I could watch you all night. Wanna fuck you, or just see you finger yourself for me, then I’d get you off that way again once you were all slick and ready for it, I’d make it so fucking good, I swear. Or you could fuck me, too, if you wanted. I’m game for it. I’d let you fuck me so hard, Eames, ’ve thought about that too.”
Naked and debauched is a very good look on him, as it turns out. “That,” Eames says stupidly, “is...quite a lot of come."
Arthur, the little maniac, is happy as a clam. “Yup!"
Eames is wondering if this is how it's going to be every time they spoon. He was just getting into being the little one, too. Now all he can think of is the filth Arthur was spouting.
But Arthur, bless him, looks adorably at peace with the world. As he’s fetching a damp cloth, Eames has to wonder just how many times he’s fantasized about this sort of situation, if he ever even imagined he’d actually get to act it out.
Once he’s cleaned up, Arthur just flops right back down and nuzzles into the pillows. Eames’s hand seeks out the sleek curve of his back all on its own, strokes there as his mind frantically replays every last word Arthur had said, reminds himself that spewing things in the heat of the moment doesn't mean Arthur’s going to burn the house down if he doesn't get everything he wants.
“Stop being such a worrywart and go to sleep,” Arthur mumbles.
Eames just lets his hand travel lower and gives him a bit of a slap on one firm arse cheek.
Arthur’s body gives the most delicious little quiver under his hand. “Oh,” Eames says, trying not to sound overly smug, “now this is interesting." When he gives him a spank on the other cheek, Arthur trembles again, which is really interesting. Eames is just waiting to be grumbled at about this.
But Arthur only grunts and twists around until he's assumed proper spooning posture again.
All in all, it's not half as bizarre as it could have been.
Over the next few weeks, Arthur spends precious little time in his hotel room. He never once sleeps there, not with Eames being the best of hosts and giving him no reason to consider it.
The first time Eames cautiously takes his cock into his mouth, Arthur nearly pulls out his own hair trying not to moan like a porn star and fuck his throat. Eames screws up his face and spits into a wad of tissues afterward, but once he’s brushed his teeth he kisses Arthur like there’s no tomorrow. Arthur has to remind himself this is, in fact, reality and not one of his illicit sessions with the PASIV and a projection.
He’s not sure when it happens, but he gets used to staying with Eames. Somewhere in there, it becomes convenient, which Arthur isn’t used to. Most of the work he does isn’t stateside—he prefers to keep those jobs legal—and while he has a few places of his own in the US, when he’s overseas he typically lives out of a hotel or finds a business rental to use. Now he’s suddenly wading through Eames’s unfolded laundry and Eames’s ridiculous DVR and Eames’s incomprehensibly organized spice rack and it seems only natural.
Arthur starts buying groceries. He checks out of the hotel entirely. He’s not even all that surprised when Eames comes back from his morning run one day and tosses a key on his chest with a, “Figured you were due for one of these.”
Of course, later that same day Cobb calls him about visiting for a consultation. Eames, understandably, wants nothing to do with Cobb. Arthur takes the job anyway—he’s got an apartment not far from Cobb’s place and it’ll be nice to be on familiar ground again.
“It’s boring work,” he promises, amazed he can string a sentence together while Eames has a very persuasive hand down his pants. Now that Eames knows his weaknesses, he’s become exponentially more dangerous, but Arthur wouldn’t have it any other way. “Strictly legal, good pay, ah, shouldn’t take long.”
“You’re going to be eating your words,” Eames tells him. “This is Cobb we’re talking about, you know.”
He’s right, of course.
Two weeks later, Arthur is calling Eames for the umpteenth time and the first thing out of his mouth is, “I really miss your cock.”
Eames, to his credit, takes this gracefully. “I’m almost positive it misses you right back.”
"And people say romance is dead. What about the rest of me, you barbarian?”
"If you must know, I also got your totem inked on my ankle and bought nipple rings with your name engraved on them."
"I hate you. Wait, nipple rings? Are you trying to tell me something?" He has a vested interest in Eames's chest, he’s not ashamed to say. Eames has some of the most sensitive nipples he’s ever seen.
Eames laughs. “Sorry to disappoint you. Maybe that would have worked back when I was young and untamed, but I’m afraid the window for that sort of thing has past.”
“Uh-huh,” Arthur says slowly. “So it’s just like being too old for a sexuality crisis. Funny, I haven’t noticed any crises lately, aside from Cobb’s idea of time management.”
Being away from Eames has given him a chance to clear his head and look at their situation a bit more objectively. He knows Eames enjoys having him around, that he’s perfectly capable of admitting Arthur's managed to change his mind on a few fronts, but there are still some things he’s is a bit reluctant about trying. If it were anyone else, Arthur would assume they were using the PASIV to try out a few things first—really, what's the point of being able to dream your heart's desire if you don't get any orgasms out of it?
But sex with projections, Arthur has learned, is one of those things that goes against Eames’s frankly peculiar honor code. For his part, Arthur has never had any compunctions about using his projection of Eames for whatever he’s in the mood for. There was, after all, a time when he was sure he’d never have a chance with the real thing. And he’d inherited Cobb’s PASIV since Cobb went back to being a law-abiding citizen. It would have been wrong not to take care of it.
Eames neither confirms nor denies the presence of any sort of crisis. “I didn’t know you were into piercings.”
This is an easier conversation to have than the one about all the terse, vague answers he’s been feeding Cobb about his current living situation. “Not really. I mean, I got my tongue pierced back when I was a bratty little rebel, but that’s it.”
That information makes Eames sit up and take note; Arthur can picture him in perfect detail. “Is it too forward to demand photographic evidence of this? I’m having trouble imagining it.”
Arthur doesn’t believe for a moment Eames ever has trouble imagining anything, but he plays along. The next time they’re chatting, he rummages through his things until he digs up an old picture from years ago, then holds it up in front of the webcam. It’s a horrible photo; Arthur’s young enough that he still looks like he’s been run over by a steamroller and his hair is the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the 90s. If Eames has any doubts about just how much faith Arthur has in him, they’d damn well better be gone by now.
"Okay,” Arthur starts, just to clarify, “the tongue ring was real, but the tattoos are fake. The glitter is also real, but it was the hair gel with the best hold…are you seriously giggling?"
“You didn't just come out of the closet, did you? You dragged an entire wall of accessories with you.”
“Sorry you’re too vanilla to appreciate it.” He tosses the photo onto the coffee table and tries to frown, but Eames’s grin is too infectious.
“Excuse me, which of us is covered in tattoos here?”
“Stuffy tattoos,” Arthur counters, knowing he sounds childish but not caring. It’s a fair point. Eames has his share of military tattoos, all of them very dignified affairs about honor and country, all of them hilarious in light of just how many undignified things Eames has done for all manner of countries.
Eames is laughing at him, not unkindly. “You’re such a combative little thing. Be careful out there, yeah?”
Arthur swallows. As far as he’s concerned, this thing he has with Eames is far more precarious than a little legal corporate militarization, whether Eames realizes it or not. “Yeah, you too. Leave the spice rack alone. I’ll be back soon.”
The long-distance sex happens by mistake, really.
One second Arthur is leafing through a stack of papers, the next he’s flashing Eames a wickedly dimpled smile and tugging off his t-shirt, claiming no one likes to watch someone else work.
“Very considerate of you,” Eames says, watching the arch of his body as he reaches off to the side for some additional paperwork. “But you can just admit arranging things in ascending order gets you all worked up. I won’t laugh. Not to your face.”
“Shut up, this is your fault for talking about nipple piercings the other day.” Arthur has a pen between his fingers, twirling thoughtfully. He’s wearing a pair of pajama bottoms that seem to be printed all over with miniature margaritas, which Eames doesn’t comment on. After all, he owns a tie that has a massive flamingo on it.
“Do you think you’d ever forge those for me?” Arthur asks suddenly. “Since obviously you’re way too old and gray to ever go for it topside. I wonder if you could come just from having your nipples played with. I’ve heard about that, but I’ve never actually seen it happen.”
“I suppose it’s as much a possibility as anything at this point. You’ve been nothing but destructive.” Eames doesn’t generally use the PASIV for things like that, but Arthur is a frankly awful influence on him. And he likes Eames's chest a lot, which Eames privately thinks has to do with pectoral muscles and chest hair and Arthur’s comparative lack of both. This is also something he doesn’t plan to comment on. Arthur’s attention to his chest has been nothing but enjoyable so far, to say nothing of the rest of him.
“Your dirty talk,” Arthur proclaims, “needs a little work.”
“Insults left and right, is that how it’s going to be? You’re just begging to be held down and ridden hard, aren’t you?”
Arthur regards him through heavy-lidded eyes. “Mmm, that sounds good. Promise?”
“Anything for a pretty piece of trouble like you,” Eames says lightly, meaning it as a joke, but Arthur…Arthur sets his work aside and noticeably squirms. Even via webcam, Eames can make out the flush starting to rise in his cheeks.
He never thought he’d cop to it, but he’s become used to having Arthur in his bed, to getting each other off with hands and mouths or just the pressure of skin against skin. He’s used to the way Arthur has of sprawling across the mattress when he’s alone but reaching for Eames without even waking up the instant Eames lies down beside him, the sounds he makes when he comes, the way his mouth looks when he’s just sucked cock. Sharp-as-nails Arthur, so careful and meticulous when it comes to getting his way.
As Eames looks on, Arthur draws a languid hand up his chest to thumb over one of his own nipples and then pinch it, small and hard on the flat planes of his chest, so different from a woman’s. Eames loves the female form in all its glory, it's part of why he's so good at emulating it, but Arthur’s body is certainly nothing to shun. “’s this okay?” Arthur asks abruptly, his voice a shade too gruff, his eyes a shade too guarded.
“You’re not bad for a scrawny little thing.” Even as he says it, he can see the muscles tensing in Arthur’s abdomen, the tendons shifting in his forearm as he rubs a palm over the taut-stretched fabric of his ridiculous pajama pants.
Arthur’s brows contort. “Wow, it’s so hot when you talk down to me. I’ve got a very decent body and you should appreciate it.”
Eames doesn’t hesitate for a second before admitting he does.
“I wish I could kiss you,” Arthur says quietly. He sounds young now, tentative, like it’s far easier for him to strip and make snippy remarks than just confess what’s on his mind. “I remember when I didn’t think I had a chance at kissing you at all, and now that I do it’s even harder to stop thinking about. And it’s so fucking stupid, all you have to do is look at me a certain way and…”
“Hush,” Eames interjects. “I want that too. Once you’re back, I’m going to go to town on your neck until you’re begging me to touch you, maybe even bite your ridiculous little ears.”
It’s not his imagination, Arthur’s cheeks are distinctly pink now. “Eames, c’mon…”
“What sort of welcome do you except when you come back, I wonder?” He hooks a thumb into the waist of his boxers and watches Arthur’s face go pinched with tension.
Then the dam breaks. “Fuck…I’d…I’d expect lots and lots of kissing first, that sounds good. Everywhere. Then a whole day just to stay in bed and make you come until you’re too worn out to make fun of me.” He gives Eames a quick grin, and then his lashes shutter over his eyes and his voice goes strained, serious. “I’d finger you nice and slow until you were ready for me, maybe use my tongue if you let me, even if it took hours—I can be slow, slow as you need, do anything you wanted.”
His upper body disappears as he leans out of sight for a moment. Eames draws a harsh, unsteady breath when he reappears holding a small bottle. “’m gonna…I’m not that good at talking through this. Can I show you?”
Eames swallows even though his mouth is suddenly dry. “Please.”
He’s hardly finished saying it when Arthur kicks his pants off and pours himself a palmful of lube.
“Remember how it felt when I had just one finger in you? You were so hard and so wet and so tight. I want to feel that again, want to make you come that hard again.”
Arthur has a fist tight around his cock, his head lagging forward so Eames can’t see his face anymore. Eames’s palm slides down his belly, dips beneath the waist of his shorts. “Bloody hell, Arthur…”
“It takes a little getting used to, I’m not gonna say it doesn’t. It can be kind of overwhelming and it might not feel very comfortable at first but I’d do everything I could to make it good for you. God, Eames. O-or you could do it to me first, I don’t even care, I just need—”
He pushes up onto his knees, pushes a hand behind himself, and the two of them curse in unison as Arthur sinks down onto his own fingers.
And for a little while there’s nothing else in the world, only Eames jerking himself off to the sight of Arthur riding down onto his fingers, drinking in every groan and whimper he utters. Arthur doesn’t seem to remember he’s got an audience at all, entirely lost in his own world and clearly enjoying it, clearly knowing what he’s doing. “Arthur,” Eames says softly. “Christ, Arthur, just look at you.”
He comes over his fist, gasping. The things Arthur’s done to him, he’s too far gone to be surprised by anything anymore.
When Arthur climaxes, he clenches up like a fist, his back bowed and shuddering, his head falling forward still more so that Eames scarcely sees a thing. And God, Eames wants him on his knees more than anything in that moment, wants to be able to look as his thighs splay sluttishly apart and his body clamps down around his fingers.
Even pink-stained and come-spattered, Arthur manages to look smug once he catches his breath. “See? Sometimes you need to just lie back and let things go.”
“And I suppose you plan to help me with that once you’re back?”
“I do,” Arthur replies contently. “Sweet dreams.”
He’s gone before Eames can respond to that.
“See,” Arthur murmurs. “I told you I’d be slow.”
It’s finally over. Cobb had asked him a dozen times why he was flying back to London instead of staying in LA for a while longer, and Arthur had deftly changed the subject every last time, even when Cobb put two and to together and asked him how Eames was doing. And now that he actually has Eames spread out in front of him like the best sort of banquet, he has no intention of leaving until he’s taken his time enjoying every possible indulgence.
“I didn’t think you meant glacial,” Eames grouses—actually grouses, while Arthur has his cock in his mouth, and that won’t do. “No offense, darling, but you did talk your ambitions up quite a bit.”
“Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean,” Arthur says innocently, ducking to lazily draw his tongue along the join of Eames’s hip, deliberately letting his cheek brush against his cock. “Could you be a little more—”
“If you say specific, I will take you over my knee right now.”
“—detailed,” Arthur finishes, giving Eames his most charming smile. “And maybe some other time.”
“Arthur…” Eames’s hand is gripping his nape, then, guiding Arthur up until Eames’s next words are half a kiss and half a plea. His mouth is burning. “Do it, come on, I know you want to.”
When Arthur slips a finger into him, Eames cries out as if he’s been slapped.
“Easy, easy, I’ve got you. You’re really sensitive.” God, Arthur has so many sordid ideas for playing with that, assuming he ever gets the chance. He’s so pleased Eames is entertaining the idea at all that there’s nothing else to do but throw himself into making this as amazing as possible.
“Was this,” Eames asks him in a voice that’s gone alarmingly unsteady, “what it was like back when you were a sparkly little twink?”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Nope, all I cared about was getting pounded as often and creatively as possible. You’re a lot more dignified than I was.” Privately, he adds that he’s also a grown man and no longer looks like a paper doll come to life. God, those old photos are damning.
Eames gives a little groan, fisting the base of his cock as Arthur slips his finger in completely. “No one’s ever called me dignified at a time like this.”
He’s beautiful this way, more so because Arthur still can’t believe he’s seeing him this vulnerable at all. Eames’s feet are planted to the mattress, legs spread and plush lips parted, nipples tight and reddened from where Arthur’s been teasing them with gentle little sucks and nips. Between the precome beading at the tip of his cock and the dark tendrils of ink curling down his shoulders and biceps, it’s enough to actually make Arthur’s mouth water.
“You’re staring at me like I’m an amoeba.”
"Thank you for sharing."
“A sexy amoeba,” Eames adds helpfully.
“Really not helping.” Arthur heaves a melodramatic sigh. "I was going to give you a really amazing orgasm too, but now I might just go microwave some oatmeal."
“Come on, this just means I’m comfortable enough to speak my mind in your presence, right?”
“Next time, maybe you should hold back just a little.”
Eames looks concerned now, like he actually thinks Arthur abandoning him in favor of food is a possibility. “Please? Hours and hours in bed, that’s what you asked for. I meant it when I said I’d give it to you.” His hand slips through the mess that is Arthur’s hair, cradling his head and drawing him into a soft kiss, hips rolling all the while to match the motion of Arthur’s hand. “I did.”
Arthur contemplates this, trying to decide if he should consume oatmeal or consume the last vestiges of Eames's virginity.
In the end, of course, it's a no-brainer because oatmeal doesn't moan.
Arthur kisses him back, feels a little of the tension release, then draws his mouth lower still. He leaves slow wet kisses across his stomach, his hipbone, the bend of his knee, murmuring filth and praises he’s hardly aware of at all. “So fucking gorgeous, so perfect like this—I’m gonna make you feel so good, Eames, I swear. Want to make you come so hard, lick you out until you’re wet and open for me, until you’re begging for me to fuck you…”
Eames gives a jolt that nearly causes Arthur’s finger to slip free. “That’s all well and good, but I’d really rather be able to kiss you this time round.”
Arthur doesn’t tell him he’s gotten rimmed by his projection of Eames regularly and religiously. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
When Eames’s eyes slide shut and he asks for more in a voice so taut with need Arthur hardly recognizes it, it’s all Arthur can do to remember how to breathe, let alone coordinate his actions. He crooks his finger, still only the one, just enough to have Eames’s back arching and his head dropping back. Arthur bends in, kisses the sweat-damp length of his throat as he eases in a second.
“It’s okay,” Arthur shushes him. “Relax for me, just like that. I’ve got you.” Eames groans as he slips in a little deeper and Arthur wonders wildly if he ever successfully managed to use more than one on himself, if he ever even attempted to.
“Please.” Eames curves up for him, hair disheveled and one hand curled tight around his cock. “You don’t need to go so easy on me, I can handle it—ah. Oh Christ, fuck, is that three?”
“I can’t believe you’re real sometimes,” Arthur says softly, against his mouth. “I really can’t.”
He eases back and Eames turns over for him.
And that’s all it takes. Arthur spends what feels like an hour just running kisses up his spine and trying to successfully open a condom packet with his too-shaky, too-slippery hands. He can’t speak, can’t do anything but lose himself in the feel of him, in the way Eames swears and shivers when Arthur finally pushes in.
It’s not quite right at first, his body just slightly off in alignment before he pulls back, eases forward—breath catching, eyes closing, everything tightening. And Eames, beneath him, gives a surprised, sighing little sound. Arthur’s lips seek out his shoulder, seal over it as his hand tightens involuntarily over the arch of Eames’s hip—tan lines, Eames still has fucking tan lines somehow—and he moves.
Slow, like before. Arthur works him up to it, but he doesn't hold anything back either. Eames surges against him, hedonistic, as if he couldn't ask for a better feeling and couldn't care less who might see him. And he makes noise, hot little scraps of sound each time his body bows back, as if it isn’t enough that Arthur is already touching him damn near everywhere, fucking him and jerking him off and lapping over the curve of his shoulder.
When Eames is close, he reaches back, groping blindly until Arthur catches on and curves around to slide their mouths together. It’s messy, more like groaning against each other’s mouths than kissing at all, and Eames’s teeth catch on his lip when he comes, hot and sudden over Arthur’s curled hand.
Arthur, when he follows, leaves bite marks on Eames’s neck and doesn’t give a damn. He doesn’t know how long it’s been or how many ridiculous things he’s gritted out in the heat of the moment, only that Eames is wrapping him in those huge fucking arms of his and planting a horrifically wet kiss on his cheek and making him writhe around like an idiot because his half-grown beard fucking tickles.
“You don’t have a clue what you do to me,” he sighs, after he’s found his voice again, lying sticky and sprawled and entirely at peace with the world.
Eames gives him a loopy, fucked-out grin. Arthur’s heart jerks in a way that feels positively lethal. “Oh, I’d say I have at least one. Give me a little credit.”
It isn’t like anything he’s ever known, the way Eames makes him shatter apart and then holds him until he’s pieced himself back together. Eames, the hardened criminal mastermind who opened his mind and his home to him against all odds—and even now Arthur still can’t keep from taking, craving, wanting even more.
Arthur’s been back for a week when he makes Eames come from his tongue alone. Granted, Eames is frotting against the bunched-up bedsheets like a fiend and Arthur’s tongue happens to be buried inside him, but it’s impressive all the same. Arthur follows within heartbeats, sitting back on his heels and spilling over his red-knuckled fist. If anything, Arthur gets off on finding new ways to make Eames cry out and come apart.
This is one act Eames’s isn’t sold on performing himself, for various reasons, but he finds it interesting that Arthur is usually very intent on keeping things neat and he certainly seems to love doing it. This is precisely the sort of conversation that shouldn’t be had over breakfast, but he and Arthur have been breaking rules left and right for years.
“Not that it wasn’t lovely,” Eames says, shaking a little more cinnamon into his bowl, “I just don’t think I could ever…”
Arthur shifts in his seat. "Oh, that's okay. If you're not into it, I mean. No big deal. It’s totally a comfort level thing. Everyone has their preferences."
Eames gives him a squint. It’s not like his preferences have stopped Arthur this cold before. “What, no campaign to bring me over to the dark side?”
"Not everyone likes doing it and I can respect that. I didn't at first, but it's a kind of—"
“Please, in the name of all that’s holy, don’t tell me it’s an acquired taste."
Arthur just shovels more porridge into his gob. His ears are so pink they’re practically glowing.
Eames hasn’t risen to the top of the illegal dreamsharing trade by not being canny. "You're cheating on me with myself, aren't you?"
Of course, then he belatedly realizes he just admitted he sees this as a monogamous relationship.
A relationship with a magenta-eared, porridge-eating freak who shares his bed and fucks him with his tongue but howls bloody murder if there are dishes in the sink.
Terrifyingly, this doesn’t seem to have escaped Arthur either. “We should probably talk about this, huh?”
Eames hedges a bit. "Yes, let's talk about you debasing my projection."
“Oh, it's plenty debased without my influence. And don't change the subject."
It defies logic, how intimidating Arthur can be for someone holding a spoon and wearing tighty-whities
Eames shrugs. "Well, I’d say this is a well-deserved notch in your bedpost. You've gotten my name onto the homosexual agenda, are you happy?"
But when he looks up from his porridge, the look on Arthur's face is perhaps the polar opposite of happy.
“I need a shower,” Arthur says simply, and disappears before Eames can say another word.
His shower ends up lasting so long Eames thinks he's crawled out the window and left the water running. Which, in all fairness, he did once on a job in Quezon City.
With Arthur busy drowning himself in the bathroom, Eames isn't sure if this is his cue to leave or think up a speech or strip naked and get on his knees. He's good at talking his way into and out of things, but he’s gasping at straws trying to determine which tactic is appropriate here.
Fortunately, Arthur saves him the trouble. “I meant to tell you,” he says, once he’s emerged from the bathroom wearing a robe and a disturbingly calm expression, “I decided to take another job and I really should start packing for it. Nayab said she’d pay extra if I’m there within the week and Jakarta is a long way away.”
Eames is officially bewildered now.
“Arthur, I think—”
“I really need to pack,” Arthur says crisply, and disappears a second time without letting him finish.
Neither of them, Arthur reminds himself, have had much luck with relationships in the past. Eames has never had one with a man at all, for crying out loud. Of course this was doomed to failure from the onset. Of course.
Maybe Eames was just being glib. Maybe he didn't expect the remark to go over that way. Maybe he should learn to fucking think before he opens his fucking mouth. And now Arthur is back to sleeping alone, which sucks, and he hopes Eames is feeling the loss just as keenly.
The first voicemail makes him want to punch through the wall. "Arthur,” says Eames’s voice, stupid accent and all, “pick up the phone, I miss your mouth. In a lot of ways. Who’s going to dictate how I arrange my spice rack?"
As part of the job, Arthur is doing time as a personal assistant for some tall gray corporate slaughterhouse as he tries to get the dirt together. He spends about half his time trying to stamp Eames out of his thoughts and the other half thinking that at least if the work allowed himself to immerse himself in something interesting he’d have less reason to spend his days trying to stamp Eames out of his thoughts at all.
He also spends a lot of time with "Gay or European?" from the Legally Blonde musical stuck in his head and fretfully reminding himself that Eames’s ambiguous sexuality is what got them into this mess to begin with. Even if Eames didn’t realize it was ambiguous at the time.
The second voicemail consists of Eames making half a dozen false starts, then resignedly muttering that obviously talking to Arthur is not something he should undertake while he's drinking. Arthur is grudgingly impressed he’s rendered Eames capable of making false starts at all. Eames is nothing if not an extraordinarily smooth talker.
He knows Eames gets a little clingy sometimes and his list of people he can call when he's clinging is rather short. He hates that he knows this.
He tells himself it doesn’t affect him. Nayab, who’s running the job, tells him he looks like shit. Lacking the energy for rapier wit, Arthur just asks if she’s jealous and goes back to work.
Even escapism isn’t the same. He plugs in just to have someone to kiss, but ends up following through on his earlier urge to punch through walls. His fists are bloody and his projection only watches with wounded eyes before enfolding him from behind and pinning his arms to his sides. “I hate this,” Arthur spits, scratching and kicking like a kid who hasn’t learned self-coordination. “I hate it and I want to hate you too.”
“I know you do, darling,” the projection says quietly, so calm even though it's bleeding right along with him now. “I know.”
Eames’s projection talks him down until the timer runs out, and Arthur wakes up feeling wretched.
He tries to make himself snap out of it, tells himself it's not that big of a deal. It’s not like they were married. It's not like Eames jumped out a window. He's seen what the aftermath of a real tragedy looks like and this isn't it, so why can't he get on with things already? If Eames saw him as some long-term experiment, then it’s up to Arthur to move on from that and get on with his work the way he always does.
After the twelfth voicemail, Arthur throws away his phone.
Eames hardly knows how to process this. It’s such an extreme response, Arthur suddenly leaving the country after what Eames thought was a very casual remark. Unless it wasn't.
Considering he’s made a life off his ability to read people, this is just embarrassing. He also finds it deeply unfair that Arthur has a job to channel his energy into while the closest Eames has is a commission due in two months that he can perfect at his leisure. This, of course, means he ignores it in favor of doing ridiculous things like applying a few drops of Arthur’s cologne to one of his pillows, which doesn’t actually do anything aside from make him feel spectacularly pathetic.
The empty bed is what unnerves him the most. Eames never much cared for sharing his bed with anyone before—he tosses, turns, and is ruthlessly selfish with blankets—but he's gotten accustomed to being the small spoon. That and Arthur's apparent inability to snuggle without getting a stiffy, and the way he would always blame it on Eames's pheromones. It's not my fault, it's science's fault! And your ass’s.
He’s also constantly finding Arthur’s belongings everywhere, shirts and fancy romaine lettuce and bizarre items that baffle Eames with their existence and have him going from why on earth does he have an eyelash curler? to if only he were here so I could tease him about this in no time flat.
Cuff links in a jacket pocket, books on the bedside table, a bright orange dildo that somehow ended up under a couch cushion...Arthur really has no room to call him a slob.
He's pretty sure the dildo is dishwasher safe, but not quite sure enough to risk it. Arthur's the one who knows about these things and Eames has no desire to explain to a repairman that his dishwasher is out of commission thanks to a melted sex toy.
Eames just scowls at it instead, which is vastly unsatisfying.
And just when the fuck did he accumulate so much Arthur in his place, anyway? The next thing he knows he's Swiffering the kitchen and wondering how the hell he ended up with a Swiffer.
When he finally does start making progress on his replicas, Cobb rings him and ruins everything. "Uh, I guess Arthur has a new phone because the last number I called just got me an out-of-service recording…you wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?"
Eames is ready to scream. He has no desire to talk to Cobb about his issues, since Cobb never talked to anyone about his and Eames isn’t all that inclined to listen to him anyway.
“I thought you two were teaming up,” Cobb continues. “Maybe I got that wrong. I just guessed, based on how Arthur was acting. You’d better not have let him get into anything he can’t handle, by the way.”
“Or what, you’ll send me a box of exploding finger paints? Cobb, you have many things in your favor, but the power of intimidation is not one of them. And there’s very, very little Arthur can’t handle.”
“I can ask Saito to look into this,” Cobb says ominously.
Eames eventually just emails Arthur in frustration.
Please come home so I don't have to field any more phone calls from Cobb. I think he's doing it on purpose.
Then he emails him again two minutes later.
There are other reasons I'd rather have you back too, and yes I said home. Can you pick up a bloody phone now and again, would it kill you to do that?
Arthur doesn’t respond.
Cobb, because he thrives on being annoying, keeps right on calling.
“It’s much more convenient when I know where Arthur is,” he explains. “Honestly, he used to be much more responsible.”
“He’s not another one of your kids,” Eames grumbles, and contemplates jabbing at his microwave to try and convince Cobb the smoke alarm’s gone off.
“No,” Cobb admits slowly, “but he is a friend.”
Eames realizes with a start that Arthur is Cobb's only remaining contact from the illegal side of dreamshare who could even remotely be considered a friend. There’s also Saito, of course, but he’s less of a friend and more of a frightening omnipresent entity. “I’ll tell him,” he says shortly, and hangs up.
Eventually he resorts to taking a picture of the sink without any dishes in it, just to add that extra edge of enticement, and emailing that to Arthur as well.
Arthur, to Eames’s absolute shock, emails him within an hour.
Send me another one of you standing next to it without a shirt and I’ll consider it.
Eames is powerless, so he does.
Everything changes when Eames comes home one day and finds Arthur doing laundry.
Out of habit, his hand dives into his pocket for his poker chip. “You...what? What are you…?”
“They didn’t have any of my detergents in Jakarta,” Arthur says, like it’s no big deal that he’s there at all, barefoot and jeans-clad in front of Eames’s washer. “And why the hell does this pillowcase smell like my cologne? That shit isn’t cheap.”
There’s the tetchy little bugger he knows. “I guess it must have spilled. That's what you get for leaving things all over the place."
“I'll show you spilling,” Arthur mutters nonsensically, and Eames just wants to throw him down and keep him pinned until he promises to leave himself there, forget anything else. And maybe explain how one can tell whether a sex toy is safe for a dishwasher.
Eames knows that he’s staring, that he probably has a positively maniacal grin on his face, and that he’s still sweating like a pig from his afternoon run. No wonder Arthur looks a little nervous.
“I’m…doing this wrong, aren’t I?” says Arthur. “I’m supposed to be wearing one of your shirts and maybe some lacy panties, right? Fuck, I should have told you I was even going to—”
Eames tackles him.
Eames wraps around him and holds on as hard as he can and Arthur, gorgeous meticulous insane Arthur, buries his face in his shoulder and gives a little groan that tears Eames’s heart in two.
Five seconds later, he’s uttering a completely different kind of groan and kissing Eames like it’s the only thing he’s ever known. Hands greedily seizing hold of Eames’s hair, his arse, the back of his damp t-shirt. Eames drinks down every last sound and shudder Arthur gives him and tries his damnedest to wring even more out of him.
Somehow, he gets them to the living room, since the bedroom is too fucking far but anything is better than rutting up against a washing machine. They don’t get as far as the couch, but Arthur topples him into a recliner and topples himself into Eames’s lap, and fuck, that’s good.
“You,” Arthur breathes, when he seems to remember he needs to breathe at all. “Your projection might be a dirty slut, but it can't hold a candle to the real thing.”
"I knew you were cheating on me with me," Eames says triumphantly.
Arthur takes an even deeper breath, seems to hold it for an impossibly long time before Eames eases his lips apart for a kiss. "Eames. You realize cheating implies togetherness of a certain degree, right?"
“Of course I do, don't be a knob. You've already taken over two-thirds of my house. I’m tripping over bits of you when you’re not even there, how unfair is that?” He sweeps one arm in the direction of all the Arthur-related objects he’d encountered over the past few weeks.
Arthur brightens when his eyes land on the orange dildo. “Oh, I was going to take that with me. Where did you find it?"
"Take it with you?” Eames sputters. “For what?”
“What do you think?"
"Dunno, you tell me. In detail."
“I think I’m getting choked up. You’ve made such great strides.” The bastard is actually wiping an invisible tear. “I almost feel bad for kicking my projection of you in the balls.”
“Ouch.” Eames drags him even closer, wrapping his arms around him and kissing him until Arthur is moaning and clinging to him all over again. One of his hands finds the lever on the side of the chair that makes the recliner actually recline, which is a stroke of pure uncut genius and this is why he needs to keep Arthur around, because he always knows exactly what to do even when they’re almost too tangled up in each other to move.
“You never went under to eviscerate a few projections of me? Not once?”
“No,” Eames admits, smoothing both hands up Arthur’s back until Arthur catches wise and slips out of his shirt. “Only to chat up the odd supermodel and whatnot, just to see how that went over.” He had to try, just to be sure he could still find them appealing, but it turned out that wasn’t the issue. The only issue was that none of them were Arthur.
“I didn’t think you even did that sort of thing with your projections,” Arthur says. He sounds more intrigued than anything else. “You know, I think if I saw you fucking a woman I’d just sit there and fan myself the whole time.”
“Maybe,” Eames says as soberly as he can, “you could do more than that. Have you ever considered that perhaps you just haven’t been with the right woman?”
Arthur bites him lightly on the chin and tugs at Eames’s shirt until he struggles free of it. “Nice try, but no. I dated plenty of girls in high school and the first year or so of college.”
“Are you serious?”
“I thought I’d end up getting engaged for a while there, but then I figured a few things out and…yeah.”
“Ah.” Eames grins. “Hence the emergence of the wanton teenage twink?”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “No one ever said figuring out your shit was a pretty process.” Then, because he’s Arthur and specificity might as well be his middle name, he looks at Eames with fire in his eyes and declares, “So let me make this clear: I have no intention of turning you into a check on a list, a notch on a bedpost, or an accomplishment on my CV.”
Eames cups the back of his head and kisses him for an eternity.
“As tempting as that last one is,” Arthur muses. “I could be famous as the point man who brought the forger to his knees. Eames, I…”
Oh, Christ. The look that comes over his face instantly makes Eames assume Arthur is in pain and that somehow he's managed to botch things up all over again. The next thing he knows, his stomach is in knots and his breath feels too heavy to move in or out and Arthur is...wedging a hand into his back pocket and retrieving his wallet.
“Um,” Eames begins. “What are you doing?”
“You’re such a lost cause it’s adorable,” says Arthur, and deftly plucks out a condom and a packet of lube. “This is the part where we have amazing, cathartic reunion sex, right?”
“Dunno, it’d be a lot easier if you were just wearing one of my shirts and some frilly knickers. Or in a bed.”
Arthur dimples and vaults to his feet just long enough to skim out of his jeans and underwear. “I like this chair.” He’s back in it in no time flat, nipping at Eames’s lips and slipping a hand down the front of his shorts until Eames gives up and shimmies them down around his knees.
If he could get a word out, he would start babbling about missing him and wanting him and his house not feeling like his at all without Arthur in it cluttering things up with his overpriced organic produce and his appallingly enormous tie collection and his horrible tendency towards singing in the shower. A quiet near-whine in his throat is all he manages, that and kissing back as well as he can, missing Arthur’s mouth half the time and just wrapping his arms even harder around him.
"Please,” Eames hears himself whispering as Arthur takes his hand and kisses the base of his thumb before slicking his fingers for him, “don't ever do that again. Don't, okay? Don't ever just fucking go away like that, you fucking idiot.”
The first press of his finger inside Arthur’s body makes them both hiss with pleasure. Arthur’s nails are digging into his biceps, his knees jamming uncomfortably around Eames’s hips as much as the recliner allows, his body jarring down onto Eames’s wrist at an awkward angle. It’s perfect. “Won’t, fuck, didn’t mean—god, missed this.”
He draws it out, slow and even, picking up the pace only occasionally, for what seems like forever, for what seems like merely a moment. Arthur eases them to the edge only to back off all over again until the two of them are trembling and slick with sweat. Just like that, over and over, before he comes in the grip of Eames’s hands—both of them wrapped around him, sure and strong, milking the pleasure from his body—and collapses forward.
And Eames presses up into him a final time, groaning into Arthur’s hair when he finally finds his own release.
Arthur is slumped against him gasping for air, twitching and whimpering when Eames slips a finger down the cleft of his arse, eases it back inside him. “You’re such a lovely thing.”
“Told you,” Arthur says demurely. “Cathartic reunion sex.” His superiority is marred only by the dopey smile on his face and the impressive growl his stomach gives.
“Come on,” Eames urges, giving him a little shove. “Let’s have a shower before I decide I’m never moving again. I’ll even get you dinner afterward, how’s that sound?”
Arthur’s laugh is the most beautiful thing he’s heard in weeks. “Even if I just want spaghetti?”
He sounds so completely guileless Eames can’t even bring himself to tease. “Yeah,” he promises, feeling the soft curve of Arthur’s smile against his shoulder. “Even then.”